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US: $208 million contract to protect Army helicopters from laser threats

The U.S. Army on August 26 2013 awarded a $208.5 million multi-year contract to UT Aerospace Systems ISR in Danbury, Conn. for a passive laser warning system to detect analyze and display threat information when a helicopter is illuminated by lasers. The flight crew is directed on how to take evasive action. The laser threats can be from weapons that use lasers for designation and range finding, and from blinding lasers.

The Army/Navy Piloted Aircraft/Visual and Visible Light/Receiving, Passive Detecting (AN/AVR-2B) Laser Detecting Sets (LDS) uses four sensor units placed on the aircraft. It is smaller, lighter and uses less power than a previous generation developed for the cancelled Comanche helicopter program.

News reports did not state how much it costs to equip each helicopter with an AN/AVR-2B system.

Army laser detection sensors
One of the four sensor packages to detect laser threats on U.S. military helicopters


From Avionics Intelligence August 31 2013 and September 3 2013

US: "The Straight Dope" answers the question "Should I be afraid of laser pointers?"

The syndicated newspaper column “The Straight Dope” answered a reader’s question about laser pointers as weapons: “Now more than ever, the world seems to be in need of ray guns…. What’s the holdup? Should I be scared of laser pointers?”

The answer first noted that laser weapons are large. An anti-missile laser required a Boeing 747, the Navy set fire to a boat with a destroyer-mounted laser, and a dazzler-type laser called the PHaSR is as portable “as a bag of cement.”

Then, Straight Dope purchased a 1 watt blue handheld laser (the same or similar to the Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic). They aimed it at room temperature pork chops and bacon. From one foot away, it took 27 seconds of continuous exposure before smoke appeared. Even with matches, it took 11 seconds to light a match from one foot away, and 15 seconds from 32 feet away.

The January 6 2012 column concluded that handheld laser ray guns are not practical: “…the likelihood that this laser would actually change somebody’s mind (other than via intimidation alone) is virtually nil…. no bad guy is going to sit still while you fry him.”

Story and photos are at the Straight Dope website. The column was also printed in the Washington City Paper.

UPDATE: In comments at the Washington City Paper, “dave b” noted that exposure to skin isn’t necessarily the important factor: “The key is to get the laser into someone’s eye.”
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US: Military aircrews can use finger-mounted laser pointers for target identification

A Sharper Image-like catalog of U.S. Army equipment includes the LA-8/P Aircrew Laser Pointer. The copy describes it as a “small, finger-mounted infrared [non-visible] laser for identification, signaling, and fire direction during night operations.” It attaches to a glove and is triggered by the thumb. There are two powers, high (Class 3B) and low (Class 1). The device is manufactured by DRS Technologies in Melbourne, FL.

Aircrew Laser Pointer p1_450w
Aircrew Laser Pointer p2_large_450w

For the military laser enthusiast, the catalog contains a number of other laser devices such as the AN/PEQ-14 Integrated Laser White Light Pointer (actually a white flashlight plus a visible and an invisible laser):

Laser pointer gun mount

From the Program Executive Officer Soldier Portfolio FY2012 catalog. The LA-8/P is on printed pages 138-139, electronic pages 146-147. Originally found via GovWin.

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: Although the LA-8/P Aircrew Laser Pointer does not emit a visible beam, it would be easy to make a visible version so that aircrews could “fire back” at persons on the ground aiming laser pointers at them. Whether this is a wise idea is another matter.
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US: Report says Iran blinded CIA satellite with laser

In an exclusive story, the Christian Science Monitor claimed that Iran used a laser to disable a U.S. satellite: “According to a European intelligence source, Iran shocked Western intelligence agencies in a previously unreported incident that took place sometime in the past two years [2010-2011 timeframe], when it managed to ‘blind’ a CIA spy satellite by ‘aiming a laser burst quite accurately.’ ”

This was the only laser-related information in a December 15 2011 article that was otherwise about Iran tricking a U.S. drone into landing in Iran by jamming its GPS position signals.

From the Christian Science Monitor; the laser paragraph was on page 2 of the online story. See also an October 2011 Washington Post story analyzing a politician’s claim that China blinded U.S. satellites in 2006.
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UK: Police dazzler laser being tested to flashblind rioters

British police are testing a £25,000 laser “rifle” to dazzle rioters at distances up to 500 meters, according to the Telegraph. This, and other non-lethal deterrents, are under test since riots in London and elsewhere August 6-10 2011. The Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology says they need to be convinced that the lasers do not cause long-term damage.

Pic 2011-12-11 at 2.48.50 PM
Concept of the rifle, from the Daily Mail


The developer is Photonic Security Systems, which also markets the rifle as a pirate deterrent. The Telegraph says that similar devices have been used in Afghanistan by NATO-led International Security Assistance Force troops.

PSS managing director Paul Kerr told the International Business Times "The very purpose of this technology is to be non-damaging … If someone is prepared to just stand there and stare down the barrel at this, which would be incredibly uncomfortable, then they are definitely a threat.” He said that he has often been exposed to the laser: "The quality and safety of the device is paramount and I know that first hand because I have been the guinea pig many times. I know what it is like and I know how effective it can be."

Author and activist Cory Doctorow points out that “the UK is a signatory on the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons … this weapon wouldn’t run afoul of international law if it (merely) reduced your vision to the point where you were impaired but not legally blind, permanently.” Doctorow also says “Twitter wags are already predicting a resurgence of mirrorshades [reflective sunglasses] among protesters.”

From the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the International Business Times and BoingBoing. See related story on BAE Systems anti-pirate dazzler.
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US: Politician says China blinded U.S. satellites with lasers

In a September 30 2011 radio interview, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann claimed that “China has blinded United States satellites with their lasers.” She is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and thus has access to top secret documents, although she says the information came from an “open-source document.” Read More...

US: Military helicopters may use lasers to fight ground-based attacks

U.S. military helicopters may use lasers to dazzle ground-based attackers firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. There are two components to the system: detection and laser countermeasures.

Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters have been testing a acoustic detection system called “Helicopter Alert and Threat Termination”, or HALTT. This uses microphones to detect the sound of a bullet or RPG. Delays in the sound reaching the microphones enables them to determine the sound’s location. A similar truck-mounted system is already in use. It can automatically swivel and fire a gun in the direction of the sound.

For helicopters, HALTT can be combined with guns and/or lasers. Infrared lasers help confuse missile guidance systems, while visible lasers would dazzle and flashblind anyone aiming at the helicopter. An engineer said the principle is to “make it impossible for a human to observe your aircraft … by creating a distracting light source. That has been done in the past and is a proven technology…”. The HALTT/laser countermeasure system could be in use by 2017.

The military already uses laser dazzlers at checkpoints, to warn approaching vehicles and to cause glare on anyone taking aim at soldiers.

From Wired and Defense Tech. A video of how the IR system would work against a missile is at YouTube.

US: Pentagon delayed using laser dazzers in Iraq

Wired magazine reported that laser dazzler deployment was held up in Iraq for nine months due to bureaucratic red tape. The nonlethal dazzlers are small, weapons-mounted or handheld lasers that temporarily blind potential threats with pulses of green laser light.

During the U.S. phase of the Iraq war, Marine Corps leaders requested the handheld devices as a way to warn and stop drivers who were overrunning military checkpoints. Wired’s David Axe estimates that “as many as 50” Iraqi civilians were killed by gunfire -- instead of being forced off the road by dazzlers -- during the nine month delay.

There is some dispute over the safety of laser dazzlers. According to the Inspector General’s report,

Laser dazzlers provide a nonlethal capability by emitting an intense light capable of temporarily obscuring the vision of approaching individuals; however, using lasers poses a risk of serious eye injury and permanent blindness. This mode of employing a laser, shining a laser directly into the face or eyes, increases the inherent dangers of using the laser. Using nonlethal laser dazzlers would give Marine operating forces an additional capability to increase stand-off distances, safeguard civilians who venture too close to Marine positions, and help prevent unwarranted escalation of force incidences; however, DoD [Department of Defense] policy prohibits the use of lasers designed to cause permanent blindness. Operating procedures and laser safety measures are essential to ensure the safe and proper use of the lasers.


The Inspector General’s report contains additional details about the range, capabilities, safety concerns and policy issues related to military use of laser dazzlers. For example, the 1995 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons states that the signatories (which include the U.S.) “shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision.”

From
Wired.com.

UK: Laser "dazzler" from BAE Systems for use against pirates and other threats

Defense specialist BAE Systems demonstrated a prototype laser intended for commercial vessels to distract, disorient and deter pirates. According to the company, the custom Nd:YAG laser “is capable of providing a visual warning to pirates at distances greater than 2km, and of disorientating attackers sufficiently at lesser distances so that weapons cannot be targeted effectively. At all times the power levels of the laser remain eye safe.”

Roy Clarke, BAE Systems capability technology lead for laser photonic systems, said: “The effect is similar to when a fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the laser is intense enough to make it impossible to aim weapons like AK47s or RPGs, but doesn’t have a permanent effect.”

From the BAE Systems press release.

US: Police considering laser dazzlers to "blind" suspects

A 250mW laser device is being marketed to police departments as a tool that can blind and disorient a subject “with a large modulating pool of green light”. The Dazer Laser from Laser Energetics is said to not cause permanent eye damage, at ranges from 3 to up to 8000 feet. The company says police, SWAT teams, prisons and military units worldwide are “ready to deploy them”. Read More...