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Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) Technology

Author: Eric Takeuchi, Vice President, Business Development, DRS Daylight Solutions

The infrared (IR) region of the electromagnetic spectrum is full of critical information that can be used to provide protection of U.S. and allied forces. For example, both fixed and rotary wing aircraft utilize signature information contained in the IR for the detection and defeat of heat-seeking missiles. IR sensors that provide situational awareness, targeting and other mission critical functions for platforms in the air, on the ground and at sea have become ubiquitous.

Lasers have long played a role in military operations. In the late 1960’s, shortly after the invention of the laser itself, laser designators began seeing action to provide high precision guidance of laser guided munitions. Many applications have followed, including range finding and aiming, in addition to more sophisticated designation. More recently, applications such as laser-based directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) have found their way into operational use. To date, many of these military applications involving lasers are served by gas or solid-state lasers; technologies that are relatively unchanged since the 1960’s.


Electromagnetic SpectrumElectromagnetic Spectrum


Over the last ten years, a new laser technology has found its way into commercial production. Dubbed “quantum cascade laser” technology (named after its unique cascading effect to generate IR light), or “QCL”, this revolutionary approach has the potential to have a profound, positive effect for military capabilities. QCLs are manufactured from conventional, commercial semiconductor fabrication facilities that leverage previous (sizable) investments in technology, infrastructure and manufacturing capacity from the telecommunications and data storage industries. QCLs generate laser emission by converting electrical current directly into IR radiation. This is in contrast to legacy solid-state lasers that require several frequency conversion stages in order to generate emission in the IR, which leads to size, weight, power and reliability deficiencies in comparison.


QCLThe system fires at the incoming missile and blinds it - unable to see the heat source it was fired at.


QCLs have been demonstrated in several military applications of interest for protecting our soldiers and citizens. QCL-based laser systems now form the basis for the next generation of DIRCM systems for the protection of rotary and fixed wing aircraft against heat-seeking missiles. Such laser systems have been successfully demonstrated on platforms for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force. QCL devices have also been integrated into multi-spectral beacons that provide combat identification and have been demonstrated at ranges in excess of several tens of kilometers. Wavelength-tunable variants of QCL-based sensors have been demonstrated in stand-off detection applications to detect chemical agents, explosive precursors and residues. Early-stage development of applications such as free-space communications, LADAR for degraded visual environments, and counter-UAS have also leveraged recent QCL-based products.

QCL technology is revolutionizing the way we design and implement protection and survivability products for the warfighter. Based upon conventional semiconductor laser technology (compact, millimeter-scale components), QCL-based products are inherently rugged and have been demonstrated to meet military environmental requirements. For example, multi-spectral laser systems for aircraft survivability and combat identification based on QCL devices have been rigorously field tested to meet military requirements. Systems that are based upon QCL devices provide operational capabilities across the IR spectrum, providing freedom of operation that is critical to support current and future engagements.


QCL
Daylight Defense laser aircraft protection

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