India has already proven its vision for laser weapons as well as the scientific talent to absorb and build on the technology after its initial successes with a vehicle-mounted 1-kilowatt laser weapon system tested in July 2018.
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Meanwhile, the US Navy has recently announced its successful attempt at a new high-energy laser weapon that can destroy aircraft mid-flight. The US Navy provided pictures and videos to show the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland executing “the first system-level implementation of a high-energy class solid-state laser” to disable an aerial drone aircraft, the Navy had said in a statement.
India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has two dedicated centres – Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS) and Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC) have been working to develop laser weapons technology for the last few years.
In 2018, it successfully tested a laser system mounted on a truck in Chitradurga, Karnataka. “The laser beam hit a target located 250 metres away,” an official said. “It took 36 seconds for it to make a hole in the metal sheet.”
Sources familiar with the matter have said that DRDO now has plans to build a more powerful laser with a longer range. Kalyani Centre for Technology and Innovation, a privately held group, is also looking to develop or build Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) that is, weapons that produce a beam of concentrated electromagnetic energy.
The two types of DEWs include – high powered lasers and microwaves. DEWs are can cause intolerable burning of an area in the body and blindness and are thus anti-personnel. They are anti-material as well because it destroys missiles, ships, UAVs and fries circuitry of equipment deployed on a battlefield.
The US Navy has been developing DEWs since the 1960s. “By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs and small crafts, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,” Captain Karrey Sanders, commanding officer of Portland, said in the statement. “With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy.”
As per a report in Breaking Defence, the US defence forces may be only three years away from 300-kilowatt laser weapon, one powerful enough to shoot down cruise missiles. “We want to have a 300-kilowatt laser by 2022. We’d like to get up to 500 kilowatts by 2024,” he said, “and then, if we still haven’t hit the limit of anything, it’s on to the megawatt-class,” stated Thomas Karr, Assistant Director for directed energy under Pentagon R&D chief.
While India has successfully tested only 1-kilowatt laser weapon in 2018, it severely lacks behind the US. According to experts, it is in the best interest for India to collaborate with the US or Israel, who are at an advanced stage of developing laser weaponry, besides China.
“It is also pertinent to keep in mind that China may not be too far behind in laser weapons technology as it has already let known its intent by targeting the US satellite. The laser-based aerospace defence assets, as and when they are deployed, could prove to be a potent deterrent,” wrote, Group Captain Atul Pant is a serving member of the Indian Air Force.
He also stated that for a country like India, with vast airspace across multiple frontiers to be protected, a laser-based weapons system could be the breakthrough needed to accommodate the escalating costs of air defence.
Due to increasing non-traditional threats, it would also provide a cost-efficient solution not only for wartime but also peacetime “The threat from drones, in particular, is going to be a big challenge in future, and a laser-based system could provide an effective solution for multiple scenarios. It could become a very cheap anti-satellite weapon too.”