WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio – U.S. Air Force researchers are asking two defense companies to develop relatively high-power multispectral laser technologies for precise sensors that not only can detect small objects, but also determine what those objects are made of.
Officials of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, have awarded two contracts -- one to the Northrop Grumman Corp. Aeronautics segment in Redondo Beach, Calif.; and the other to CACI Inc. in Florham Park, N.J. -- for the Multi-Spectral Laser Development project.
Experts from Northrop Grumman and CACI will develop and refine supercontinuum fiber laser technology for electro-optical sensors in a variety of military applications.
Laser sensors can detect small objects or precise positions, while multispectral lasers can help determine the materials from which these small detected objects are made. These kinds of sensors have the potential to help military forces find small objects of interest and quickly determine what they are.
Northrop Grumman won a $4.9 million Air Force contract on Thursday 12 Aug. 2021, and CACI won a $4.9 million contract on Friday 23 July 2021.
While supercontinuum lasers are available commercially today with 10 to 20 Watts of power, Air Force researchers are asking Northrop Grumman and CACI to develop enabling technologies that could lead to supercontinuum lasers of about 280 Watts.
The goal is discover and develop electro-optics and photonics supporting technologies that enable increased performance and affordability, and prepare these technologies for potential deployment in Air Force sensing systems.
Supercontinuum fiber laser technology has a continuous optical spectrum that spans a wide range of wavelengths, typically a factor of five or more in wavelength between the lower and upper bounds of the generated spectrum, researchers explain. These lasers often are called white light if the spectrum covers visible wavelengths.
Supercontinuum generation most frequently is created using a broad range of concurrent nonlinear optical interactions between high peak power mode-locked laser pulses and a suitable optical material, very often in a fiber-optic form.
Air Force researchers want Northrop and CACI to develop a high-power laser emitting broadly in the spectral range 350 to 1750 nanometers, with a power spectral density of 200 milliwatts per nanometer for 280 Watts total power, with a beam quality M2 value of less than 1.5.