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Defence tests high-energy anti-drone laser

written by Robert Dougherty | June 14, 2024

AIM Defence co-founder Dr Jae Daniel explains the operation of the AIM Defence Fractl Portable High Energy Laser to Australian Army Director General Systems and Integration Brigadier Kurt Brown and personnel at the Puckapunyal Military Area, Victoria. (Image: CPL Jacob Joseph)

The Australian Defence Force has conducted live fire testing of a directed energy weapons system against unmanned drones in Victoria.

The Defence Counter-UAS Directed Energy Weapons System, manufactured by high-power laser start-up AIM Defence, was demonstrated with company employees and ADF personnel at Puckapunyal Military Area, Victoria from 27 to 31 May.

The testing exercise is the final stage of a joint Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation & Coordination Office and Jericho investment over the last five years.

During the testing, AIM Defence co-founder Dr Jae Daniel and AIM Defence co-founder Jessica Glenn showcased the Fractl Portable High Energy Laser to personnel from the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force.

Personnel included Australian Army Director General Future Land Warfare Brigadier James Davis, Australian Army Director General Systems and Integration Brigadier Kurt Brown, Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation & Coordination Office Director Colonel David Robertson, and Royal Australian Air Force Jericho Disruptive Innovation Group Director Group Captain Jesse Laroche.

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Earlier this year in March, it was announced that AIM Defence had been contracted to produce a deployable directed energy system for use against drones by the Australian Defence Force.

The $4.9 million contract represents the first time the ADF has acquired a directed energy prototype for ongoing field-based counter-drone trials and evaluation.

The Fractl:2 DE system is reportedly powerful enough to burn through steel and precise enough to track and shoot down a drone travelling at 100km/h a kilometre or more away, according to AIM Defence.

Portable and battery-powered, Fractl:2 can shoot down over 50 drones per charge and can be plugged into a wall socket for continuous operation. It has the added advantage of near-zero usage cost as light-based energy replaces ammunition.

“Countering drones and other autonomous weapons systems has emerged as one of the most critically needed capabilities for militaries worldwide,” Glenn said.

“For the past four years, AIM Defence has been working with Australia’s defence innovation ecosystem to build a cost-effective, high-precision and deployable directed energy system.

“Fractl:2 is the culmination of that effort.”

The Fractl:2 relies on the company’s enhanced eye safety tactical directed energy laser which limits the blinding risk associated with typical one-micron systems – making it vastly safer in the field than comparable high-power laser systems.

The company expects Fractl:2 to be in the hands of ADF operators by mid-2024.

Daniel said the company’s focus is on reducing risks so that directed energy systems can be safely used in built-up environments and operational theatres.

“We have successfully demonstrated over 200 drone defeats both indoors and outdoors over the last two years, each time improving the Fractl capabilities and learning how to safely deploy directed energy,” Daniel said.

“By having this focus, we’ve been able to engineer our 1-micron Fractl:1 system to be orders of magnitude safer than other DE systems.

“The evolution of Fractl to the Fractl:2 variant reduces the collateral hazard again, by a factor of 100. This makes it the safest and most deployable high-power laser system in the world, by quite a margin.”

In late 2023, it was announced that the Australian Department of Defence would develop laser technology with Mitsubishi Electric Australia.

The joint development project was announced to develop and transition a capability for the Australian military to enhance surveillance and survivability of Australian defence platforms, according to the statement made by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation on 19 October.

“Development of this capability, based on cutting-edge laser technology developed by Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group, will utilise laser technology fostered by Mitsubishi Electric.

“Mitsubishi Electric will provide the prototypes and its capabilities.

“This project is the first case of a joint development agreement between [a] Japanese company and a foreign government in the defence sector and is a new business model for Japan, which has been promoting transfer of defence equipment and technology through public-private partnerships.

“Mitsubishi Electric will promote transfer of defence equipment and technology cooperation.”

In April 2023, QinetiQ Australia announced a $12.9 million two-year contract with Defence Australia to co-develop and manufacture a high-energy defensive laser system prototype capable of deployment in a range of operational environments.

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