In something straight out of a science fiction story, BAE Systems scientists at Warton are working on a laser shield and a long distance, laser spy system which could be in use within the next 50 years.
The aerospace and defence firm revealed plans for a pulse laser which is used to heat up a small area of the air to form a plasma lens.
It uses phenomena similar to how a mirage is create in the desert and how radio waves “bounce” off the earth’s ionosphere to be picked up many thousands of miles away.
The Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens “LDAL” causes a localised ionisation of the air – bending the light to either make a shield against laser attack or to magnify objects far away.
The work has been assessed by by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and specialist optical sensors company LumOptica.
Professor Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems’ Futurist and Technologist said: “Working with some of the best scientific minds in the UK, we’re able to incorporate emerging and disruptive technologies and evolve the landscape of potential military technologies in ways that, five or ten years ago, many would never have dreamed possible.”
The company said that electromagnetic environment is crucial to today’s military operations and is set to increase in its importance in the future. Electromagnetic signals include light, infrared, and radio waves.
Military forces use electromagnetic signals to sense, to communicate, and to attack.
If their signals can be controlled by the medium through which they pass, then significant military advantages should be possible.
The effect only lasts as long as the laser pulses and is therefore totally reversible.
Using pulse lasers does not need the power of continuous wave lasers, for example as are used in laser pointers, which means they could be small enough to be used in aircraft.
Craig Stacey, CEO at LumOptica added: “This is a tremendously exciting time in laser physics.
“Emerging technologies will allow us to enter new scientific territories and explore ever new applications.
“We are delighted to be working with BAE Systems on the application of such game-changing technologies, evaluating concepts which are approaching the limits of what is physically possible and what might be achieved in the future.”
Professor Bryan Edwards, Leader of STFC’s Defence, Security and Resilience Futures Programme said of the work: “For this evaluation project, STFC’s Central Laser Facility team worked closely with colleagues at BAE Systems.
“By harnessing our collective expertise and capabilities we have been able to identify new ways in which cutting edge technology, and our understanding of fundamental physical processes and phenomena, has the potential to contribute to enhancing the safety and security of the UK.”