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US: Laser aimed from aircraft to ground results in dozens of calls

An airplane flying around Honolulu and other parts of Oahu, shining a green laser onto residents, is actually mapping Hawaii using LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging). The mapping normally is done during daylight hours but was moved to nighttime due to FAA flight restrictions.

In a September 16 2013 article, HawaiiNewsNow said there were “dozens” of inquiries about the nighttime green light. One person emailed that the aircraft circled his area about six times at 1:00 am, with a wide green laser that appeared to be scanning downward. Another email confirmed the multiple passes with a V-shaped green laser.

The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the work. They stated that the laser is not harmful to the eyes. The Oahu work should take about a week, and mapping the entire state should conclude in November.

From HawaiiNewsNow. Similar flyovers using visible green lasers have occurred in other U.S. cities, such as New York City in 2010 and 2012, according to a a brief Google search of such reports, for example here and the comments here.

US: $208 million contract to protect Army helicopters from laser threats

The U.S. Army on August 26 2013 awarded a $208.5 million multi-year contract to UT Aerospace Systems ISR in Danbury, Conn. for a passive laser warning system to detect analyze and display threat information when a helicopter is illuminated by lasers. The flight crew is directed on how to take evasive action. The laser threats can be from weapons that use lasers for designation and range finding, and from blinding lasers.

The Army/Navy Piloted Aircraft/Visual and Visible Light/Receiving, Passive Detecting (AN/AVR-2B) Laser Detecting Sets (LDS) uses four sensor units placed on the aircraft. It is smaller, lighter and uses less power than a previous generation developed for the cancelled Comanche helicopter program.

News reports did not state how much it costs to equip each helicopter with an AN/AVR-2B system.

Army laser detection sensors
One of the four sensor packages to detect laser threats on U.S. military helicopters


From Avionics Intelligence August 31 2013 and September 3 2013

Worldwide: Laser weapons 10-20 years away from widespread deployment

Lasers and other directed electromagnetic weapons won’t be widely deployed until the 2022-2032 time frame, according to experts speaking at a conference on Direct Energy Systems.

One speaker noted “…we have had kinetic weapons for 500 years and laser weapons for 10-15 years…. The soldier wants a reliable, easy-to-handle, clear to understand system that has the reliability of a normal M16 rifle, or whatever, therefore the superiority is on the kinetic side.”

From Optics.org

General interest: Article discusses pros and cons of laser sights for weapons

An interesting article at Officer.com describes how laser sights can be used to enhance firearm proficiency. According to the article, laser sights help in training and simulation, allow faster target acquisition, “help minimize collateral damage, reduce tunnel vision and allow proper use of cover and/or concealment.”

Author John Wills notes that laser sights are not as effective beyond 20 feet, and they do not substitute for marksmanship techniques such as grip and stance.

Glock 23 with laser sight_300w
Glock Model 23 with M6 Tactical Laser Illuminator (xenon light plus red laser pointer < 5 mW).
Image from nukeit1 at Flickr, CC by 2.0 license.


Green laser sights are now available; they are more easily seen than an equivalent-power red laser. Infrared laser sights are made for use with night vision goggles. The beam cannot be seen by the naked eye, so a bad guy does not even know he is being targeted.

Wills concludes by saying “like any other tool there is a right way and a wrong way to use” lasers.

From Officer.com

US: First laser dazzler FDA-approved for non-military police

A laser dazzler has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for non-military use by law enforcement officers. The 200 milliwatt GLARE Enforcer enlarges the green laser beam more than a conventional laser pointer, in order to create a “cone” of light that can encompass a number of persons in a vehicle or on foot. It is visible as a warning device up to 1.25 miles away, and can produce disruptive dazzle up to 1600 feet away.

Pic 2012-02-14 at 9.05.54 AM
Range diagram from a
PDF product brochure for the GLARE Enforcer laser dazzler


While the nominal ocular hazard zone (NOHD) at full power is 130 feet, the device includes a safe, low-power laser that measures the distance to a person or reflective object, and lowers the light level so it is safe at the detected distance. Military dazzlers do not have such a feature, relying instead on training soldiers not to aim the laser at persons closer than the hazard distance.

Laser journalist Jeff Hecht reported in a February 13 2012 article that there have been “some injuries” from military dazzlers, most of them minor. He also noted that ordinary citizens armed with laser pointers could be more of a hazard than police or military dazzlers. For example, lasers were used against police in Greece during riots in June 2011.

From New Scientist. The B.E. Meyers Electro-Optics GLARE Enforcer product page is here.

US: Air Force spending $2,400 each, for 3,000+ laser protection glasses

Teledyne Technologies Inc. announced February 3 2012 that its subsidiary, Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC (TS&I), was awarded a $7.7 million contract by the United States Air Force to fabricate, test, and deliver 3,137 Aircrew Laser Eye Protection Block 2 spectacles. The potential value of the contract including options is $20.4 million for a total of 8,500 spectacles over three years. Deliveries began in December 2011. TS&I was the prime contractor for the prior Aircrew Laser Eye Protection Block 1 program, where the company delivered approximately 5,000 eyewear to the United States Air Force.

[NOTE: The amounts above represent about $2,400 per pair of laser protection spectacles. More information about anti-laser glasses for pilots, including non-military versions protecting against one or two visible wavelengths for roughly $100-200, is here.]

From a Teledyne Technologies press release

Worldwide: Concern over laser dazzling of satellites

A new book by Economist reporter Benjamin Sutherland has a chapter about lasers being used by military forces to dazzle or possibly blind satellites. In an interview published January 21 2012, Sutherland discussed the “Endangered Birds” chapter in his book Modern Warfare, Intelligence and Deterrence:

“There are lasers used to hit satellites, it’s called dazzling, and it’s a show of force. There are a handful of countries that can do it. China dazzles U.S. and French satellites in low earth orbit not often, but regularly. What if a laser hits them, maybe lingers too long? A show of force can actually damage the satellite, knocks out some sensitive equipment. If that happens, and it’s from China, is that an act of war? What do you do? Political leaders have to be briefed on this. They have to make an effort to avoid escalation.”

From an interview in the Santa Barbara Independent conducted by Kevin Zambrano

US: Military aircrews can use finger-mounted laser pointers for target identification

A Sharper Image-like catalog of U.S. Army equipment includes the LA-8/P Aircrew Laser Pointer. The copy describes it as a “small, finger-mounted infrared [non-visible] laser for identification, signaling, and fire direction during night operations.” It attaches to a glove and is triggered by the thumb. There are two powers, high (Class 3B) and low (Class 1). The device is manufactured by DRS Technologies in Melbourne, FL.

Aircrew Laser Pointer p1_450w
Aircrew Laser Pointer p2_large_450w

For the military laser enthusiast, the catalog contains a number of other laser devices such as the AN/PEQ-14 Integrated Laser White Light Pointer (actually a white flashlight plus a visible and an invisible laser):

Laser pointer gun mount

From the Program Executive Officer Soldier Portfolio FY2012 catalog. The LA-8/P is on printed pages 138-139, electronic pages 146-147. Originally found via GovWin.

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: Although the LA-8/P Aircrew Laser Pointer does not emit a visible beam, it would be easy to make a visible version so that aircrews could “fire back” at persons on the ground aiming laser pointers at them. Whether this is a wise idea is another matter.
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US: Airborne missile-killing laser project mothballed after $5 billion

After 16 years and $5 billion in development, the U.S. Air Force’s Airborne Laser Testbed (ABL) program has been shut down. An entire Boeing 747 was needed to house the chemical oxygen iodine gas laser. The COIL laser generates megawatts of power, enough to damage missile skins thus causing the missile to disintegrate. In 2010 the ABL was used against solid- and liquid-fueled rockets in tests.

Pic 2011-12-27 at 11.28.43 AM
Cockpit view of the ABL shooting down a missile on Feb. 11 2010. Video is
here.


A key reason for the ABL shutdown was the cost of the project versus the projected military returns. Another reason is that the Missile Defense Agency is looking to a new generation of laser systems with “much denser capacity or greater power lasers in smaller packages and operating at much higher altitudes.” Unmanned aerial vehicles would be an ideal platform. The MDA’s director said antimissile drones using solid-state lasers could be a reality by 2020.

From Aviation Week. An analysis of laser weapons is at Strategy Page.

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: We included this story because people sometimes wonder if lasers aimed from the ground can damage an aircraft’s airframe. The short answer is “no”. It would take a system similar to the $5 billion ABL. However, the Missile Defense Agency is now indicating that military-developed solid-state lasers may be able to cause enough damage to down a missile -- or aircraft -- within this decade (the 2010s).

While it is unlikely that non-state groups could deploy such a device, it is more of a possibility than independently developing an ABL-like COIL gas laser. For the foreseeable future, the threat to aircraft remains the visual impairment caused by bright laser light, and to a lesser degree, the possibility of causing retinal lesion eye injuries.
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US: Report says Iran blinded CIA satellite with laser

In an exclusive story, the Christian Science Monitor claimed that Iran used a laser to disable a U.S. satellite: “According to a European intelligence source, Iran shocked Western intelligence agencies in a previously unreported incident that took place sometime in the past two years [2010-2011 timeframe], when it managed to ‘blind’ a CIA spy satellite by ‘aiming a laser burst quite accurately.’ ”

This was the only laser-related information in a December 15 2011 article that was otherwise about Iran tricking a U.S. drone into landing in Iran by jamming its GPS position signals.

From the Christian Science Monitor; the laser paragraph was on page 2 of the online story. See also an October 2011 Washington Post story analyzing a politician’s claim that China blinded U.S. satellites in 2006.
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UK: Police dazzler laser being tested to flashblind rioters

British police are testing a £25,000 laser “rifle” to dazzle rioters at distances up to 500 meters, according to the Telegraph. This, and other non-lethal deterrents, are under test since riots in London and elsewhere August 6-10 2011. The Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology says they need to be convinced that the lasers do not cause long-term damage.

Pic 2011-12-11 at 2.48.50 PM
Concept of the rifle, from the Daily Mail


The developer is Photonic Security Systems, which also markets the rifle as a pirate deterrent. The Telegraph says that similar devices have been used in Afghanistan by NATO-led International Security Assistance Force troops.

PSS managing director Paul Kerr told the International Business Times "The very purpose of this technology is to be non-damaging … If someone is prepared to just stand there and stare down the barrel at this, which would be incredibly uncomfortable, then they are definitely a threat.” He said that he has often been exposed to the laser: "The quality and safety of the device is paramount and I know that first hand because I have been the guinea pig many times. I know what it is like and I know how effective it can be."

Author and activist Cory Doctorow points out that “the UK is a signatory on the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons … this weapon wouldn’t run afoul of international law if it (merely) reduced your vision to the point where you were impaired but not legally blind, permanently.” Doctorow also says “Twitter wags are already predicting a resurgence of mirrorshades [reflective sunglasses] among protesters.”

From the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the International Business Times and BoingBoing. See related story on BAE Systems anti-pirate dazzler.
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US: Politician says China blinded U.S. satellites with lasers

In a September 30 2011 radio interview, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann claimed that “China has blinded United States satellites with their lasers.” She is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and thus has access to top secret documents, although she says the information came from an “open-source document.” Read More...

US: Military helicopters may use lasers to fight ground-based attacks

U.S. military helicopters may use lasers to dazzle ground-based attackers firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. There are two components to the system: detection and laser countermeasures.

Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters have been testing a acoustic detection system called “Helicopter Alert and Threat Termination”, or HALTT. This uses microphones to detect the sound of a bullet or RPG. Delays in the sound reaching the microphones enables them to determine the sound’s location. A similar truck-mounted system is already in use. It can automatically swivel and fire a gun in the direction of the sound.

For helicopters, HALTT can be combined with guns and/or lasers. Infrared lasers help confuse missile guidance systems, while visible lasers would dazzle and flashblind anyone aiming at the helicopter. An engineer said the principle is to “make it impossible for a human to observe your aircraft … by creating a distracting light source. That has been done in the past and is a proven technology…”. The HALTT/laser countermeasure system could be in use by 2017.

The military already uses laser dazzlers at checkpoints, to warn approaching vehicles and to cause glare on anyone taking aim at soldiers.

From Wired and Defense Tech. A video of how the IR system would work against a missile is at YouTube.

US: Pentagon delayed using laser dazzers in Iraq

Wired magazine reported that laser dazzler deployment was held up in Iraq for nine months due to bureaucratic red tape. The nonlethal dazzlers are small, weapons-mounted or handheld lasers that temporarily blind potential threats with pulses of green laser light.

During the U.S. phase of the Iraq war, Marine Corps leaders requested the handheld devices as a way to warn and stop drivers who were overrunning military checkpoints. Wired’s David Axe estimates that “as many as 50” Iraqi civilians were killed by gunfire -- instead of being forced off the road by dazzlers -- during the nine month delay.

There is some dispute over the safety of laser dazzlers. According to the Inspector General’s report,

Laser dazzlers provide a nonlethal capability by emitting an intense light capable of temporarily obscuring the vision of approaching individuals; however, using lasers poses a risk of serious eye injury and permanent blindness. This mode of employing a laser, shining a laser directly into the face or eyes, increases the inherent dangers of using the laser. Using nonlethal laser dazzlers would give Marine operating forces an additional capability to increase stand-off distances, safeguard civilians who venture too close to Marine positions, and help prevent unwarranted escalation of force incidences; however, DoD [Department of Defense] policy prohibits the use of lasers designed to cause permanent blindness. Operating procedures and laser safety measures are essential to ensure the safe and proper use of the lasers.


The Inspector General’s report contains additional details about the range, capabilities, safety concerns and policy issues related to military use of laser dazzlers. For example, the 1995 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons states that the signatories (which include the U.S.) “shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision.”

From
Wired.com.

UK: Laser "dazzler" from BAE Systems for use against pirates and other threats

Defense specialist BAE Systems demonstrated a prototype laser intended for commercial vessels to distract, disorient and deter pirates. According to the company, the custom Nd:YAG laser “is capable of providing a visual warning to pirates at distances greater than 2km, and of disorientating attackers sufficiently at lesser distances so that weapons cannot be targeted effectively. At all times the power levels of the laser remain eye safe.”

Roy Clarke, BAE Systems capability technology lead for laser photonic systems, said: “The effect is similar to when a fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the laser is intense enough to make it impossible to aim weapons like AK47s or RPGs, but doesn’t have a permanent effect.”

From the BAE Systems press release.

US: Police considering laser dazzlers to "blind" suspects

A 250mW laser device is being marketed to police departments as a tool that can blind and disorient a subject “with a large modulating pool of green light”. The Dazer Laser from Laser Energetics is said to not cause permanent eye damage, at ranges from 3 to up to 8000 feet. The company says police, SWAT teams, prisons and military units worldwide are “ready to deploy them”. Read More...