January 11, 2011

Laser Weapon Developed To Fight Pirates

Seafarers may soon have a new weapon to help fight off pirates and other sea-borne raiders.

Defense company BAE Systems has come up with a non-lethal laser cannon that can be used against moving targets more than a mile away. The weapon could be a blessing for the increasing number of commercial and private vessels that are at risk when sailing off the coast of Somalia and elsewhere in the Arabian Sea.

The company has demonstrated the new laser system, which can temporarily blind would-be attackers. The system would prevent pirates from being able to aim their weapons at targets, BAE claims. It has been developing the weapon in conjunction with a high frequency radar that can locate the small boats commonly used by Somali pirates.

BAE said the laser distraction system can travel through the sea air while being housed onboard a moving ship. But the company says further safety testing is needed before such a system could be commercially deployed.

The laser beam acts as a warning signal, letting raiders know they have been spotted, Brian Hore, of BAE, told BBC News.

"Today's pirates tend to be opportunistic. If they know they've been spotted, they're likely to look for an alternative target," Hore said.

At close range, the green laser beam will daze them, making it difficult for them to use weapons of their own.

Green lasers have been used by the US military in Iraq and are used to temporarily interfere with eyesight, blinding targets.

Hore said the challenge was to develop a system that was effective, but could also be used safely, over long distances at sea. The United Nations has banned weapons that have been designed to cause permanent blindness.

BAE conducted several optics experiments to demonstrate that its distraction laser operates within safety limits, Hore told BBC News.

Human tests would need to be conducted before the system can be produced commercially, he added. Any commercial system would see the laser cannon integrated with BAE's existing targeting systems. This would allow it to adjust the intensity of the laser beam to account for the target's distance and atmospheric conditions.

The International Chamber Of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau said there were 430 pirate attacks worldwide in 2010, up from 406 the year before.


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