Non-lethal laser defends against pirate attacks

BAE Systems has demonstrated a prototype laser for use by commercial ships to defend against pirate attacks, without causing lasting effects to the assailants.

The laser provides a visual warning to pirates at distances of 2km and beyond and disorientates them at close range, so that weapons cannot be targeted effectively.

Piracy worldwide is on the rise according to reports from the International Maritime Bureau, with 430 attacks worldwide reported last year, up from 406 in 2009. As pirates increase their range and capabilities, commercial shipping agents are looking for ways of preventing attacks whilst avoiding armed guards on their ships.

Bryan Hore, BAE Systems business development manager and the lead for programme, said: ‘The whole concept of the anti-piracy campaign that BAE sytems are undertaking is how we might be able to take military technology and employ it in a commercial environment.

‘That means first of all simplifying the technology, because of the type of people that would be operating it, but also making it a cost effective.’

The researchers developed a bespoke Neodymium Yttrium Aluminium Garnet (Nd:YAG) laser which is an effective deterrent at relatively low power levels. By utilising targeting systems and changing beam patterns, the distraction effect can be made more pronounced and be used against multiple targets.

The laser was trialled during night and day in varying weather conditions at the Pershore Trials Range in Worcester. Cameras were placed at the target location to demonstrate the level of beam intensity and divergence produced by the test runs.

When fitted on commercial ships the laser distraction system could utilise its own targeting capability or integrate with existing ship radar and sensor systems to control the direction and power of the beam. It could therefore work semi-autonomously and would also include security features to ensure it could not be used by pirates if they boarded the ship.

While the trials have proved successful Hore admitted there are there are several hurdles to overcome.

‘Our next step is to look at things like multiple targets, the remote use of the system and further safety aspects. We are also driven by the interests of the customer – we are taking what we’ve done out to interested parties and looking at what their specific requirements would be for this sort of capability,’ he said.