Navy Rheinmetall developing laser source demonstrator for the Bundeswehr

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The German procurement authorities have awarded Rheinmetall a contract to develop a key future laser weapon system component. At the end of the second quarter of 2020, the Federal Office for Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support, or BAAINBw, contracted with Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH to fabricate a laser source demonstrator. The order is worth a figure in the lower two-digit euro-million range.

Intersectional by design, the laser source demonstrator can be employed in various projects to study in greater depth the use of laser technology in military applications. The first project for the laser demonstrator will be a yearlong trial phase onboard the Germany Navy frigate Sachsen.

The laser demonstrator is based on spectral coupling technology, which Rheinmetall has been investigating intensively for years. Its key performance data include scalable output power of up to 20 kW with very good beam quality. In essence, the demonstrator consists of twelve nearly identical 2kW fibre laser modules with close to diffraction-limited beam quality. A beam combiner – a subassembly that turns multiple beams into a single beam by means of dielectric grid technology – couples the twelve fibre laser beams to form a single laser beam with excellent beam quality.

Spectral coupling technology offers a multitude of advantages compared with other coupling technologies, e.g. geometric coupling: it is less complex, highly modular and features growth potential in the 100 kW performance class; moreover, as a passive system, it is able to operate with extremely low control effort.

In 2015, during trials conducted in the Baltic, Rheinmetall successfully engaged targets on land with a functional prototype of a shipboard laser weapon system for the first time in Europe. Then, in 2018, BAAINBw and Rheinmetall successfully tested a laboratory-based 20 kW laser source. The planned trials, to be conducted in military environments under authentic operating conditions, are the next step on the path from laboratory to practical application, all in the space of just three years. This is a major step – vital and demanding – on the road to introducing future laser weapon systems.

 

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Laser weapon on the frigate "Sachsen"​


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The Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Use of the Bundeswehr (BAAINBw) commissioned Rheinmetall to develop a component for the demonstrator of a laser weapon for the German Navy. As the company announced on November 26, the procurement authority signed a contract with Rheinmetall Waffen Munition GmbH for the production of a laser at the end of the second quarter of 2020sources- Demonstrators closed.

This degree is a step on the way to the complete system of a laser weapon. The laser source demonstrator can be used in various projects in order to investigate the laser source technology for military applications in depth. According to its own information, Rheinmetall uses the spectral coupling technology that it has investigated and pursued with a scalable output power of up to 20 kW to generate the laser beam. Their advantage over other coupling technologies would be lower complexity and higher modularity. In addition, the technology has growth potential in the laser power class of 100 kilowatts and, as a passive system, would offer very little control effort. The core of the demonstrator consists of twelve almost identical 2 kW fiber laser modules with almost diffraction-limited beam quality. The twelve fiber laser modules are coupled to a laser beam with very good beam quality via a beam combiner, an assembly for combining the beams from several laser sources into one overall beam based on dielectric grating technology. In 2018, BAAINBw and Rheinmetall successfully tested a laboratory sample of a 20 kW laser source.

Since the summer of 2019, Rheinmetall and MBDA Germany have formed a working group in the development of high-energy laser effectors with the aim of jointly building, integrating and testing a laser demonstrator for use in the German Navy. In 2015, Rheinmetall installed a 10-kilowatt laser weapon (high-energy laser (HEL effector)) on a light naval gun (MLG 27) on board a German naval unit, which was used to acquire and track targets. In October 2016, MBDA Germany tested a high-energy laser effector at a military training area on the German Baltic coast.

Now the integration of the laser source into the effector is pending. Subject to the positive decision from the procurement authority of the Bundeswehr, a German naval laser weapon system, whose sea-based testing was expected in 2020, could leave the laboratory stage. As part of the project "Highly precise and scalable action against agile / low-signature targets in the immediate and immediate range of floating system carriers of the Navy - HoWiSM", a laser weapon system demonstrator was to be integrated as a test carrier on a K130 corvette as a first step. This planning with the "Oldenburg" was revised due to the UNIFIL missions of the corvettes, so that the testing, which is scheduled for one year, now takes on trains on the "Sachsen".

It will not only be about the classic question of hit effectiveness. Rather, the focus is on the performance spectrum of such a weapon in its use on board a sea-going unit - i.e. from operation taking into account the parameters power supply and cooling to maintenance and repair requirements. In addition, the Navy expects the opportunity to be able to draw conclusions about the use of a laser weapon system in port protection.

Beyond the trials, the installation of a laser weapon system on the K130 corvettes remains an option. With regard to the frigate of the future, F127, in addition to the classic solutions (rolling airframe missile (RAM) or evolved sea sparrow missile (ESSM)), high-energy weapons such as a 100-kilowatt laser are also considered for close-range and short-range protection.

Laser weapons

In addition to fighting 'traditional' targets such as missiles and artillery projectiles, laser weapons are seen as the answer to modern threats. For example against individual or swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles, since the costs of a laser shot are lower than the expenditure on artillery ammunition or missiles. Effective results can be achieved with a laser power of just twenty kilowatts. The US Navy tested a high-energy laser system on board the USS "Portland" (LPD-27) against an unmanned aerial target in May 2020 - here is a video of the successful testing. This involved the further development of a 30-kilowatt laser (AN / SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System, LaWS) already used between 2014 and 2017 on the USS “Ponce” (LPD 15).
 

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