UM develops lasers to defend helicopters against missile attacks


September 4, 2010

New laser technology could be used to protect military helicopters from heat-seeking missiles

New laser technology could be used to protect military helicopters from heat-seeking missiles

Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing laser systems for protecting military helicopters from heat-seeking missiles. The lasers wouldn’t shoot down the missiles, but would instead jam their sensors, essentially blinding them. This isn’t the first time that laser systems have been used for this purpose, but the creators of this system claim that it is better suited to helicopters than anything that has come before.

The UM system detects incoming missiles, then shoots at them with a mid-infrared supercontinuum laser. While most lasers emit light of just one wavelength, supercontinuums pack a broad range of wavelengths into their focused beam. Although such lasers typically emit a beam of visible light, due to the fact that this is a mid-infrared supercontinuum, its beam isn’t seen but is felt as heat. The resulting broad spectrum infrared beam mimics the electromagnetic signature of a helicopter engine, and causes the missile to lose track of where the actual helicopter is. It is said to be effective up to a distance of 2.9 km (1.8 miles).

One of the big strengths of this system, according to its makers, is its simple design and off-the-shelf fiber optic parts. “The laser-based infrared countermeasures in use now for some aircraft have 84 pieces of moving optics. They couldn't withstand the shake, rattle and roll of helicopters,” said Mohammed Islam, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “We've used good, old-fashioned stuff from your telephone network to build a laser that has no moving parts.”

Islam’s claims may soon be put to the test – his UM spin-off company, Omni Sciences, has recently received US$1 million in grants from the US Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build a second-generation prototype.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

While this is very promising, it was not \"smart\" weapons that brought down helicopters in Somalia..... (see book Black Hawk Down) Dennis

This seems an excellent idea, reduction of moving parts in something intended for helicopters is never a bad idea. If it works. @Dennis, fair point, however there are always going to be \"dumb\" weapons, and there are always going to be decisions made which will be judged in the perfect clarity of hindsight. Daylight surprise missions are always best when they really are surprises.


@JohnP - Don\'t forget about the night. In darkness the enemy with \"dumb\" weapons can only shoot at the sound. With an effective and reliable IR defense system helicopters could safely fly high enough en-rout to avoid effective fire from RPGs and small arms. However IR missiles excel in tracking these still relatively low flying slow targets. Right now the best defense for an IR treat is to stay low to reduce detection and engagement time, but that exposes you to the small arms again.


@tommymc11: the early soviet Hind have good performance against small arm. Modern Attack Helicoptesr can withstand a 12.7 AP bullet and the cockpit even can withstand a 30mm cannon. The most serious threat still the unguided RPG, the Afghan insurgents use this tactic to shoot down many soviet Hind, also Chinook. The soft kill can resolve most electric threat but do little help against old weapons....

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