DRDO working on Star Wars-like weapons
Rajat Pandit | TNN | Mar 28, 2016, 04.55 AM IST
New Delhi: From "heat rays" in H G Wells' science fiction novel 'The War of the Worlds' of 1898 to galactic super-lasers in George Lucas' continuing 'Star Wars' film saga, concentrated energy weapons have been fantasised about for long without them becoming operationally viable.
But advanced militaries now think directed energy weapons (DEWs) like high-energy lasers and high-powered microwaves will become strategic game-changers in the not-too-distant a future. While the US, Russia, China and others are leagues ahead in the race to develop advanced DEWs, though their actual operational deployment is still some distance away, India is also trying to make some headway towards such futuristic weapons.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is already tom-tomming its ongoing development of a 10-kilowatt DEW against UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) like targets, with "the establishment of critical technologies of precision tracking/pointing and laser beam combination".
The "system" has been tested up to a range of 800 meters at its Hyderabad-based Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS), and was also demonstrated to the armed forces at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory's firing range at Ramgarh (Haryana) in September last year.
Development of DEWs and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons has been identified as a top-priority area in the 15-year "technology perspective and capability roadmap" chalked out by the defence ministry, as reported by TOI earlier.
The DRDO, often criticised for huge time and cost overruns in its projects, says smaller systems like laser-based ordnance disposal of IEDs and mines, hand-held laser dazzlers to overpower armed terrorists and vehicle-mounted laser dazzlers for controlling unruly mobs have already been developed.
But the real challenge will be in achieving the declared aim to develop solid-state laser DEWs for aircraft and warships, which can destroy enemy ballistic missiles in their "boost phase itself", somewhat akin to what is already being tested by the US.
The DRDO's Laser Science & Technology Centre is working on an array of systems from "chemical oxygen iodine lasers" to "high-power fiber lasers" for strategic uses, which includes a 25-kilowatt laser to take on a ballistic missile du-ring its "terminal phase" at a distance of 5-7 km.
All this has gained momentum after the government in February 2014 sanctioned Rs 115 crore for development of "experimental technology modules for directed energy laser systems" by CHESS, with the project completion date being set for July 2017.
DRDO's next: Star Wars-like weapons
Rajat Pandit | TNN | Aug 3, 2010, 01.23 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Move aside Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, DRDO is trying to develop its own set of Star Wars-like weapons. From laser dazzlers to control rioting crowds to high-powered lasers to destroy incoming missiles, DRDO is working on a slew of directed energy weapons (DEWs).
"Lasers are weapons of the future. We can, for instance, use laser beams to shoot down an enemy missile in its boost or terminal phase,'' said DRDO's Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC) director Anil Kumar Maini, talking to TOI on Monday.
Incidentally, DRDO chief V K Saraswat himself has identified DEWs, along with space security, cyber-security and hypersonic vehicles, as focus areas in the years ahead. "LASTEC has the mandate to develop DEWs for armed forces,'' said DRDO's chief controller (electronics & computer sciences) R Sreehari Rao.
While conventional weapons use kinetic or chemical energy of missiles or other projectiles to destroy targets, DEWs decimate them by bombarding with subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves at the speed of sound. Apart from the speed-of-light delivery, laser DEWs cause minimal collateral damage.
DRDO, of course, often promises much more than it can deliver. But even the defence ministry's recent "technology perspective and capability roadmap'' identifies DEWs and ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons as thrust areas over the next 15 years, as was first reported by TOI.
The aim is to develop laser-based weapons, deployed on airborne as well as seaborne platforms, which can intercept missiles soon after they are launched towards India in the boost phase itself. These will be part of the fledgling ballistic missile defence system being currently developed by DRDO.
The US, incidentally, is already conducting tests of high-powered laser weapons on a modified 747 jumbo jet, the ALTB (airborne laser testbed), which direct lethal amounts of directed energy to destroy ballistic missiles during their boost phase.
It will, of course, take India several years to even conduct such tests. For now, LASTEC is developing "a 25-kilowatt'' laser system to hit a missile during its terminal phase at a distance of 5-7 km. "All you need is to heat the missile skin to 200-300 degree and the warhead inside will detonate,'' said Maini.
LASTEC is also working on a vehicle-mounted "gas dynamic laser-based DEW system'', under project Aditya, which should be ready in three years. "But Aditya is just a technology demonstrator to prove beam control technology. Ultimately, we have to develop solid-state lasers,'' said Maini.
Even countries like US have now shifted their focus to the more efficient, smaller and lighter solid-state laser DEWs since chemical (dye and gas) lasers are dogged by size, weight and logistical problems.
-- Hand-held laser dazzler to disorient adversaries, without collateral damage. 50-metre range. Status: Ready.
-- Crowd-control dazzlers mounted on vehicles to dispel rioting mobs. 250-metre range. Status: take 2 years more.
-- Laser-based ordnance disposal system, which can be used to neutralise IEDs and other explosives from a distance. Status: trials begin in 18 months.
-- Air defence dazzlers to take on enemy aircraft and helicopters. 10-km range. Status: take 2 years more.
-- 25-kilowatt laser systems to destroy missiles during their terminal phase. 5 to 7-km range. Status: take five years more.
-- At least 100-kilowatt solid-state laser systems, mounted on aircraft and ships, to destroy missiles in their boost phase itself. Status: will take a decade.