Australia is building a tank-destroying laser weapon

Australia is building a tank-destroying laser weapon
Artist's concept of a laser weapon in action
Artist's concept of a laser weapon in action
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Artist's concept of a laser weapon in action
Artist's concept of a laser weapon in action

Australia has joined the race to field a practical high-energy laser weapon as it awards AU$$12.9 million (US$8.74 million) to QinetiQ Australia to develop a prototype with a twist – the goal is to build a laser that can take out main battle tanks.

High-energy lasers are one of the top emerging technologies that military planners see as potential game changers on par with the invention of gunpowder. The idea of a weapon that can engage multiple targets at the speed of light at a cost of a dollar a shot is an enticing one and is already seen as a way to counter drones, missiles, hypersonic weapons and other threats.

The Australian Ministry of Defence is taking this to another level with its QinetiQ contract to develop a prototype laser weapon in partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) in South Australia. Similar weapons are already being developed in the United States, Britain, Russia, and China, mostly to counter flying threats, but Australia is a bit more ambitious.

The purpose of the new laser weapon is to make land forces more resilient by exploiting the fact that a laser is largely self-contained and its ammunition is electricity, which greatly reduces the need for ammo stocks and supply lines. But what sets the Australian laser program apart is that the Ministry states explicitly in a 2020 Force Structure Plan that it should be able to take on armored vehicles up to and including main battle tanks.

Taking on an armored behemoth weighing in at over 70 tonnes soaking wet is very likely aspirational at this stage. The world's most powerful laser weapon is Lockheed Martin's system that generates a beam of 300 kW. That's enough to take out a wide range of threats. However, drones, missiles, mortar shells, and aircraft aren't armored, which makes them vulnerable to the deadly penetrating power of a high-energy laser.

A main battle tank, on the other hand, is sheathed in a thick shell of remarkably sophisticated armor plating. NATO tanks, for example, use variants of Chobham armor. The exact nature of this is highly classified, but it's essentially a combination of steel alloy, composites, and ceramics with the latest rumored to incorporate layers of depleted uranium.

The result is an armor that is extremely resistant to blast, heat, and kinetic and penetrating rounds. It's also very thick and massive. The upshot is that while a laser could theoretically burn its way through such protection, under battlefield conditions this would be, at best, a slow and difficult process.

The basic problem is that an anti-tank laser would have to deliver tremendous amounts of energy on a single spot to an armor that can absorb and dissipate a lot of heat, so the laser would have to be able to work very quickly. This means developing a solid-state laser that is far more powerful than anything to date.

And it doesn't end there. A more powerful laser means an upgrade across the entire weapon system, including the power supply, the doped fiber optic coils that generate the laser, the focusing lenses, the targeting system, beam compensators, and others.

Small wonder that Australia isn't just funding a laser, but a whole manufacturing facility.

"DSTG is partnering with industry to build advanced and competitive Australian sovereign capabilities for our Defence Force in critical technology areas," said Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Tanya Monro AC. "The high energy laser manufacturing capability is an example of how we can work with industry to support emerging and disruptive technologies."

Source: Australian Ministry of Defence

Consider . . . ......
Wot happens when you miss ? ? ? ? ? ?
Physics would indicate that we are about 20-30 years away (minimum) from the amount of energy would be available to burn through the armour of a main battle tank. The reporters that are writing about this story really don’t seem to lay any analysis or logic whatsoever to the scenario.

Logically, the weapon being created would be designed to blind the tank, then possibly to target the barrel. To instantly take out it’s ability to see and target, then to take out it’s ability to fire are the only two outcomes that could be achieved in the next decade.

But once you’ve achieved those two outcomes, the tank is nearly worthless as an attacking weapon without major sensor repairs. In addition to this, a laser will also be able to cheaply target drones, fighters, helicopters, missiles, mortars, artillery shells and other soft targets within line of sight. It’s a reasoned approach to future warfare.

And once you’ve generated the ability to create this force in under 20 tonnes or so of weight, you can mount it on a airframe for a bomber that is almost invincible to attack.
Mat fink
Is there another company developing mirror covered armour?
Mat fink: No,this has been shown not to work,as no mirrored surface is 100% reflective. Once you burn into such a reflecting coating,it soon gives way completely,and melts.
Noshy: Yes,I was thinking of the sensors on a MBT,which could be fried very quickly. Didn't think of the main gun barrel,but you are right. If you burn through the barrel, the cannon is ruined.
The Navy gave up on rail guns because they required too much energy and infrastructure.

Obviously one consideration is combat is a 2 way challenge with multiple fast moving targets that shoot back.

True, laser could ‘blind’ the tank or maybe ruin a tread.

In the near term, you want a smart 120mm Metal Storm of engine/heat seeking projectiles.

If you’re in front of a massed Soviet high speed tank attack, you have a very limited time to kill and survive. See the Gorman analysis and DARPA’s solutions.
For the parts of tanks covered with reactive armor (the stuff that explodes to disrupt shaped charges) a laser might be able to set the active part off and then go after what's left. (Or it might be able to set off the active armor and then leave a tank more vulnerable to conventional attacks.)
Noshy has been thinking, and that is a good thing. The amount of power needed to go through armor is quite substantial, and we are not anywhere near that for now, if ever. Also, once such a system is created (if ever), it would not be all that difficult to provide countermeasures that would attenuate the laser pulse. Armor that ablates into a cloud when overheated would provide protection.
And protect against cyber attacks that will steal the research behind these weapons
All sensors and vision systems would be vulnerable to a heat-generating laser coupled with a robotic AI control system and everything then becomes vulnerable. How do you move when all your sensor systems are melted or fused?
1st 13 million might buy the lens, but also one doesn't have to put a hole through the tank to disable it, burn off a track
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