DRDO’s next: Star Wars-like weapons

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 laserbeams to shoot down an enemy missile in its boost or terminal phase,''said DRDO's Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC) directorAnil Kumar Maini, talking to TOI on Monday.

Incidentally, DRDO chief V K Saraswathimself has identified DEWs, along with space security, cyber-securityand hypersonic vehicles, as focus areas in the years ahead. " LASTEChas the mandate to develop DEWs for armed forces,'' said DRDO's chiefcontroller (electronics & computer sciences) R Sreehari Rao.

While conventional weapons use kinetic or chemical energy of missilesor other projectiles to destroy targets, DEWs decimate them bybombarding with subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves at thespeed of sound. Apart from the speed-of-light delivery, laser DEWscause minimal collateral damage.

DRDO, of course, often promises much more than itcan deliver. But even the defence ministry's recent "technologyperspective and capability roadmap'' identifies DEWs and ASAT(anti-satellite) weapons as thrust areas over the next 15 years, as wasfirst reported by TOI.

The aim is to develop laser-basedweapons, deployed on airborne as well as seaborne platforms, which canintercept missiles soon after they are launched towards Indiain the boost phase itself. These will be part of the fledglingballistic 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 directedenergy to destroy ballistic missiles during their boost phase.

It will, of course, take India several years to even conduct suchtests. For now, LASTEC is developing "a 25-kilowatt'' laser system tohit a missile during its terminal phase at a distance of 5-7 km. "Allyou need is to heat the missile skin to 200-300 degree and the warheadinside will detonate,'' said Maini.

LASTEC is also working on a vehicle-mounted "gas dynamic laser-based DEWsystem'', under project Aditya, which should be ready in three years."But Aditya is just a technology demonstrator to prove beam controltechnology. Ultimately, we have to develop solid-state lasers,'' saidMaini.

Even countries like US have now shifted their focus tothe more efficient, smaller and lighter solid-state laser DEWs sincechemical (dye and gas) lasers are dogged by size, weight and logisticalproblems.


Non-Lethal systems:

-- 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 toneutralise IEDs and other explosives from a distance. Status: trialsbegin in 18 months.

Lethal Systems:

-- 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 aircraftand ships, to destroy missiles in their boost phase itself. Status:will take a decade.

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