QinetiQ Australia will develop and manufacture a high-energy, defensive laser weapon system prototype for the Australian Department of Defence.
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The Australian-arm of the multinational defence technology company announced the three-year, $13 million directed energy laser weapon development contract to establish a sovereign, in-country, high-energy laser manufacturing capability for Australia.
The project was published alongside a strategy update, delivery of robotic combat vehicles (light) for the US army, target systems for the Royal Netherlands Army, and a mission data program with the UK in a third quarter trading update on 18 January.
“This win is a great example of global leverage of our technology across our home countries, deploying our UK directed energy expertise into Australia to support the development of this critical, sovereign industrial capability for the Australian Department of Defence,” the statement said.
The Australian Department of Defence has been asked for comment on the project.
Defence analyst and former naval officer Christopher Skinner has previously spoken on the applications and challenges of directed energy weapons in September 2022.
“For Australia there are potential applications in all domains, excepting the undersea domain where laser effects are severely limited and microwave entirely ineffective,” he said.
“Examples that Australia should be thinking about for the next 10 to 20 years include non-kinetic air defence for land and seaborne application, especially with the rapid increase in use of lethal autonomous uncrewed vehicle attacks, especially when operated in swarms.
“Other applications include dazzling or blinding space and airborne sensors being used in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance roles.”
A direct energy systems white paper published by QinetiQ said laser and radio frequency (RF) systems can be cost-effective options for defence against improvised attacks with a practically “infinite magazine”.
“In a world where a simple quadcopter can shut down an international airport or disrupt operations, new solutions are critical. Operators can now launch sophisticated, coordinated attacks on a small budget, with little knowledge or prior training,” the report stated.
“Lasers can be used to confuse enemy sensors or ignite hardware, while RF can disable electronics and communications systems, rapidly neutralising high volumes of low-value targets economically and decisively.
“Unlike artillery, directed energy systems can achieve an objective such as neutralising a command and control node, located inside a building, without damaging the structure or causing harm to humans inside. The beam from an energy weapon can be invisible to the naked eye, generate no sound and may produce only a small smoke plume on contact with its target.”
The report emphasised the need for compact and efficient batteries to handle the energy constraints required by high-powered directed energy systems.