Raytheon chosen to develop scalable laser-based military wireless on-demand power-distribution network

Aug. 15, 2023
POWER optical technologies are to create an airborne relay capable of redirection, wavefront correction, and energy harvesting of optical beams.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers needed a company to design a high-altitude optical relay to create scalable on-demand power networks able to distribute about 10 kilowatts of electricity to military users as far away as 125 miles. They found their solution from Raytheon Technologies Corp. (RTX).

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced a $10 million contract Friday to RTX Raytheon in McKinney, Texas (formerly Raytheon Intelligence & Space) for the first phase of the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER) project.

The goal is to demonstrate optical power-beaming relays not only as a resilient multipath alternative for expeditionary energy transport, but also to enable small-yet-persistent manned and unmanned aircraft to provide on-demand power for a wide range of military missions. Additional contracts may be awarded.

POWER optical technologies are expected to create an airborne relay capable of redirection, wavefront correction, and energy harvesting of optical beams. The ultimate goal is to use three airborne relay nodes hosted on existing aircraft to transmit energy from a ground source laser to 60,000 feet in altitude, and back down to a ground receiver 125 miles away.

Related: Navy asks industry for dynamic RF and microwave spectrum management systems for future 5G tactical networking

To account for degradation of beam quality as the beam transits atmospheric disturbances, Raytheon will develop a relay able to correct the optical wavefront as needed, and harvest energy from the optical beam to provide on-board auxiliary power.

POWER seeks balance energy generation, storage, and distribution for military missions by capitalizing on power beaming for near- instantaneous energy transport.

Military power today relies primarily on liquid fuels like jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel fuel, which are vulnerable to enemy attack and require significant infrastructure. Instead, POWER seeks to reduce the military's dependence on liquid fossil fuels, their delivery, and storage capacity.

Speed- of-light energy transport through a multipath network would enable rapid reconstitution under attack, graceful degradation, and resilience by re-routing energy through the network in a matter of seconds or minutes, and restoring full capability by replacing nodes in minutes or hours.

Related: Military researchers ask industry to develop wireless networks that use lasers to transmit electrical power

The POWER program seeks to deliver 10 kilowatts of laser energy to the final ground node using a 50-kilowatt source laser, transmitted through three airborne relay nodes using system apertures smaller than one meter diameter.

In POWER's first phase, Raytheon will develop and mature a relay payload design, and design a relay platform. Later, the program will build a low-power demonstration relay, finally to demonstrate three airborne nodes relaying power to a ground receiver at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., using the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF), and the RQ-4 Global Hawk large unmanned aircraft as an airborne relay.

On this contract RTX Raytheon will do the work in El Segundo and Mojave, Calif.; Kent, Wash.; and Albuquerque, N.M., and should be finished by May 2025. For more information contact RTX Raytheon online at www.rtx.com, or DARPA at www.darpa.mil.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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