Nov. 27, 2012: The ADAM system is shown targeting an unmanned aerial system.Lockheed Martin
An artist's conception of the portable ADAM system, a laser-based defense against missiles and UAVs.Lockheed Martin
A laser shield from defense giant Lockheed Martin can destroy improvised rockets, missiles and UAVs attacks, the company recently announced -- a futuristic missile shield for soldiers.
Israel’s Iron Dome system, which largely succeeded in protecting Israel from militant rockets during the recent Gaza crisis, uses radar to track incoming threats and launch $60,000 Tamir interceptor missiles.
Each defensive launch costs $120,000; over a three-day period Israel spent approximately $29 million on missiles. And Israel has plans to build a total of thirteen with eight more to install, at a cost about $50 million.
Lockheed’s lasers could be much cheaper.
Lockheed’s ADAM, short for Area Defense Anti-Munitions, is portable and also designed to defend against attacks from rockets and drones, using lasers, not missiles, for protection.
“We combined our proven laser beam control architecture with commercial hardware to create a capable, integrated laser weapon system,” said Paul Shattuck, Lockheed Martin’s director of directed energy systems for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems.
Lasers don’t run out of ammunition and provided they’ve got power they can keep on defending. And given laser beams work at the speed of light, theoretically it is very difficult, if not impossible, for aerial targets to dodge a laser defensive beam.
Indeed, high-energy lasers (“directed energy” in company lingo) hold enormous potential -- and a revolution is afoot to put them in the hands of the war fighter.
From DARPA’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, a 150-kilowatt laser program, to Boeing’s “Laser Avenger,” many have been hustling to make lasers practical and relevant for mounting on warships, vehicles or even aircraft of the U.S. military.
Lockheed Martin has taken a crucial step forward in this field. Over the past few months, the company has repeatedly demonstrated a ground-based laser system against short-range airborne threats. Their approach is fiber based which has been all the rage these days in military lasers.
Fiber lasers have already long been used in the industrial sector for welding and cutting, so their reliability has improved while their cost has gone down.
The company’s 10-kilowatt fiber laser is engineered to destroy targets up to 1.2 miles away and has a tracking range of more than three miles. Crucially, it can even precisely track targets in cluttered optical environments.
Intended to protect forward operating bases and other key military sites, the system is designed to be flexible enough to operate against rockets as a standalone system and to engage unmanned aerial systems with an external radar cue.
In testing, ADAM successfully targeted an unmanned drone in flight at nearly 1 mile. It has also destroyed small-caliber rocket targets approximately 1.2 miles away.
Despite the high cost of Tamir interceptors, Iron Dome advocates cite that technology as cost-effective: The radar can distinguish when a missile is likely to hit built up areas, they argue, meaning Tamirs are launched with discretion.
Lockheed notes that ADAM is more affordable, practical and easy to operate. Its modular architecture combines commercial hardware components with the company’s proprietary software.
Lockheed Martin has been working in the field of high-energy lasers for more than three decades and counts among its achievements advances in precision pointing and control and line of sight stabilization.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.