The next step in MBDA’s development of a practical laser weapon, with a power output as high as 120 kW, is to develop a “deployable” demonstrator, the company said here on Wednesday. Progress will depend on securing funding, most likely from the German government, which has been supporting work by both MBDA and Rheinmetall for some years.

The most important applications for laser weapons are counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) defense and protection against small unmanned air vehicles, MBDA says. For C-RAM, the laser’s most important feature is a deep magazine; against small UAVs, advantages include a low cost per kill, selective effects (from blinding the seeker to destroying the seeker and ultimately destroying the vehicle). The laser is also silent and produces no spent rounds to cause damage on the ground: this is particularly important in protecting civilian events and facilities from UAV interference.

Both German companies are working on laser weapons based on commercially available industrial fiber lasers, where Germany is the world leader. These are inexpensive, low-risk and reliable but deliver only 10-20 kW per unit, so the challenge is to combine multiple sources into a single, tightly focused beam.

MBDA uses reflective optics, like a Newtonian telescope. Each laser module is steered by its own piezo-electrically focused mirror on to the single larger primary mirror.  The advantage of mirrors, MBDA argues, is that they absorb less energy than lenses, so that the optical system can be driven to high power levels without fundamental change.

Although tests since 2012 have been carried out using four 10 kW laser modules, the current system could easily go to 80 kW total power with standard modules, and MBDA’s design for a truck-mobile system is designed with six modules. The lasers are 30 per cent efficient, so a 100 kW system would need 400-500 kW all told, well within the capability of commercial generators. The system does need a way to deliver power in short, rapid-rise pulses, and MBDA is still evaluating both batteries and flywheels for power storage.