Laser beam weapons have ignited the imagination of millions that watched movies in which these weapons are used. For many years scientists mainly in the US have been trying to build operational weapon systems that will use laser beams instead of projectiles. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful so far in spite of huge investments. For example, the US is spending billions on the 747-carried anti ballistic missile laser (ABL) system but it is believed to be far from operational status.
27th Oct 2011
Networked lasers in combat - the IAI solution.
ARIE EGOZI / Tel Aviv
Laser beam weapons have ignited the imagination of millions that watched movies in which these weapons are used. For many years scientists mainly in the US have been trying to build operational weapon systems that will use laser beams instead of projectiles.
These attempts have been largely unsuccessful so far in spite of huge investments. For example, the US is spending billions on the 747-carried anti ballistic missile laser (ABL) system but it is believed to be far from operational status.
However, the US and Israel have teamed to develop the more promising "Nautilus" - a laser "gun" that will destroy rockets.
The technology demonstrator was based on a large device and was far from operational status. When rockets fired by militants began to hit Israel in the south from Gaza and in the north from Lebanon, the Ministry of Defence decided to develop the "Iron Dome" system that will be operational in November . This system uses special interceptor projectiles and not laser beams.
But Israel is using laser beams with great success not as a weapon but instead as a weapon "guide". This success stems directly from the fact that a laser beam is coherent, precise and steady. With these virtues it can be used to illuminate targets from great distances.
If you can illuminate targets why not develop weapons that home on the laser spot? This has been achieved years ago and many companies are offering laser homing weapon systems.
Recently Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have unveiled an operational concept that is based on the use of many laser designators. The MBT weapon division of IAI is manufacturing different laser directed weapon systems, some highly classified.
Now the division is using these systems for a new combat concept that will be based on multiple designators that will be networked.
The MBT people explain that the fact that laser designators have become lighter and cheaper, enable their greatly increased use. "The laser sensors have also become more easy to install on different weapon systems and that is enabling our new concept to be implemented, "an MBT source said.
The MBT division people say that there is "dramatic" increase in the use of laser guided weapons by air forces in particular.
"Everyone understands now that this is almost an ideal method to bring a bomb or missile to its target very accurately."
What is the innovative side of the MBT division concept?
Not everything is revealed by IAI, but from the details Defence Review Asia received it can be said that it is based on the sophisticated connection of a great number of laser designators.
But large numbers of lasers unaided would not necessarily achieve a lot and might even cause confusion. So the MBT people have developed a command and control system that enables the different designators to "talk" with each other in a plain "language".
An infantry unit identifies a target but is unable to open fire because it is an inferior location that will not enable efficient targeting. What happens then is that the target details are automatically relayed to the command and control system and it allocates another unit that is well located to destroy the enemy, using laser guided weapons.
The weapons can be fired from the ground, sea or air and will all be allocated very precisely to the target or targets. The designators may also be on the ground, on the sea or in the air.
Each of the laser beams is coded - a fact that enables a commander to allocate a weapon system to each designator or some to many: "the combinations are many and only the combat requirements are the factor that determines the numbers "
The MBT division not only developed the networked designators approach, but it also offers a variety of laser guided weapon systems to go with it. Here again what is presented is just the tip of a variety of such weapon systems - but most details are classified.
The MBT Nimrod -3 is one of the laser-guided weapons that can be discussed. This missile has a range of 50 kms and according to IAI a Circular Error of Probability of a low 1 meter. A second example is the Griffin-3: a bomb carried by fighter planes . The bomb is brought to the target area by GPS navigation but the laser spot allows it to achieve a very accurate hit.
IAI says that the Griffin has a 5 meters CEP but confirms that it is producing more advanced weapons of this type dubbed generally as Next Generation Laser Guided Bomb (NGLGB) kits.
These weapons provide aircraft with high precision, 12km standoff strike capability against ground targets such as bunkers, entrenched tanks, armored vehicles and other hardened targets. This capability makes it possible to attack highly defended targets while eliminating aircraft and aircrew losses, and ensures cost effective operations, destroying more targets with less ammunition. The conversion kits are compatible with the Mk-82/83/84 GP and other bombs.
The kit comprises a front guidance section and a rear fins section, which are attached to a standard bomb, converting it to a "smart" munition. In addition, MBT's smart bombs are combat proven. They can be carried by many types of fighter aircraft, and used with all available designators.
But the laser guidance concept with its innovative, networked designators can provide guidance to other exotic weapons. The MBT division has developed the Fireball, a laser homing 120/121mm mortar shell, with dual mode precision homing: GPS & Laser. Fireball is designed for single shot kill, and it can be launched from rifled or smooth-bore tubes.
Fireball's guidance system adjusts the projectile’s course by gliding, greatly extending its effective range. With its unique aerodynamic design, Fireball reaches almost twice the range of conventional mortar bombs (up to 15 km). The bomb detects the target as it glides to the laser detection "basket" using GPS navigation, where it then acquires the target and homes on it.
Fireball uses various warhead and fusing options: fragmentation for soft targets, percussion for armor and penetration for bunkers and targets inside buildings. The weapon trajectory is optimized for the urban environment and achieves minimal collateral damage, performing a steep dive in the final homing phase.
The use of a laser sensor on a mortar shell was not simple. When the shell travels in the mortar tube, it experiences a 5000 G force. This enormous pressure is not destructive to the shell itself but the sensor is a different story. "We solved the problem " a company source said, without releasing more details.
The MBT division also manufactures the Lahat , an advanced Laser Homing ATtack laser-guided Missile for precision attack.
The Lahat can be launched from a gun or canister deployed on a wide variety of platforms, including land vehicles, helicopters, and tanks.
Lahat, with a length of less than one meter and weight of less than 13 kg, is very well suited for use on light-weight helicopters as well as light vehicles and AFVs. A Lahat launcher fully loaded with four missiles weight less than 80 kg.
Despite its small size and light weight, LAHAT is highly effective against a variety of target types, including tanks, at ranges well over 8 km. The projectile can accurately hit moving targets, including enemy helicopters. Its long range enables helicopters to engage and destroy enemy forces while avoiding the enemy's air defenses.
In its tank gun launched version, LAHAT is handled by the 105mm or 120mm gunner, as a standard round. The missile performs precision homing on a laser-designated target, ensuring first shot, tank-kill at ranges over 6Km.
LAHAT can accurately hit moving targets, including helicopters.
The MBT division of IAI is investing money and effort to increase and improve the use of laser guided weapons and the little that has been uncovered of this effort is an indication as to what else is being done in the company’s facilities under the most strict security measures.