Industry News Blog Posts

Big Emphasis on “Spectral Warfare” in Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance Plans

The US Air Force is developing technologies to achieve “spectral warfare” and “spectral dominance” in its Next-Generation Air Dominance program (NGAD). The program includes the development of a sixth-generation stealthy crewed combat jet and advanced drones called Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA). The budget documents outline the central goal of “dominating” future aerial warfare defined by infrared search and track systems and missiles with multi-mode seekers, advanced radars, and electronic warfare systems.

The program includes research on advanced radiofrequency electronic warfare capabilities, including cognitive electronic warfare. The Air Force’s “spectral warfare” and “spectral dominance” initiatives will focus on new and improved infrared and laser-based sensors and seekers for weapons, as well as technologies to defeat enemies using similar capabilities. The Air Force is seeking approximately $8.4 million in funding for the “Integrated EW Demonstration,” which includes capabilities to “counter advanced complex electromagnetic threats in contested environments across radio frequency and electro-optic/infrared spectrums” and for use against “multispectral threats in a complex electromagnetic environment.”

The US Air Force is also set to invest in the development of infrared search and track (IRST) systems, which are expected to play a significant role in the future of air warfare. IRSTs are sensors that can detect targets using their heat signatures, making them effective against stealth aircraft and immune to electronic jamming. The US Air Force has been focusing on developing IRSTs, with several programs utilizing the technology, including Skyborg and Off-Board Sensing Station. The proliferation of stealth technology has led to the development of more advanced IRSTs by other nations, including China and Russia, which threaten the US’s aerial superiority.

The development of CCA drones, which will include studies to refine CCA concepts and air superiority-related technologies, comes as China and Russia have been investing in electronic warfare assets, which include sophisticated IRST systems, posing a significant threat to the US’s aerial superiority. With advanced integrated air defense systems and multispectral data becoming more prevalent, it will become increasingly difficult to hide from multiple active and passive sensors working cooperatively over a broad area to detect, track, and subsequently engage an aerial platform. Click here to read the full article.

QCLs for Directional Infrared Counter Measures

When choosing the right QCL for IR countermeasures, there are a few major points to consider. Most commercially available QCLs are designed for spectroscopic sensing applications, which require single longitudinal mode (SLM) operation. While these lasers have excellent spectral characteristics, their output powers are often limited to a few milliwatts. Therefore, these lasers are far from ideal for tricking heatseeking missiles, where the laser needs to be powerful enough to overcome the thermal emissions from the jet engine. This brings us to our next consideration, Quasi Continuous-Wave (QCW) operation of QCL’s. The QCW output of theses lasers generate less heat within the system and allows for a much better wall plug efficiency than that of continuous wave (CW) systems. This is because in QCW operation, the laser is only turned on for some percentage of the time, depending on the percentage of duty cycle set, greatly reducing overall power consumption. Additionally, QCW repetition rates are very high (in the hundreds of kHz range), which cannot be detected by the missile’s sensors. The final major consideration to mention is beam quality. Lasers for countermeasure applications need to be single spatial mode to allow for optimal collimation and beam steering.

One source for QCLs which meet these demands for power, beneficial QCW characteristics, and beam quality is the PowerMir series, designed and manufactured by mirSense in Orsay, France. They offer highpowered lasers at 4.0-micron, 4.6-micron, 4.8-micron, and 9-micron, each of which corresponds to atmospheric transmission windows, as shown in figure 2. Based on a rugged monolithic Fabry-Perot laser design, these lasers operate in the quasi-CW regime, with typical pulse widths of a few tens of nanoseconds and pulse repletion rates in the MHz range. The 4.0-micron, 4.6-micron, and 4.8-micron options are all ideal for IR countermeasures not just because of their wavelengths, but also because they are all capable of producing over 1 watt of average power (>1.5 W at 4.8-microns) with a TEM00 output beam with an M2 < 1.5.

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