Airborne lasers make high-speed military network zip

Free space optical laser-based system will support high-speed video, data transmissions

mobile laser
Ultra-high bandwidth lasers in manned or unmanned aircraft could soon be blasting military voice, video and data across the skies and to the ground if a hybrid optical laser system currently undergoing test pans out. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory has successfully tested high data-rate experiments using a free-space optical laser link, to send data across almost 22 miles from about 10,000 ft, in the air and on the ground, without interference at about 3Gbps, the Air Force stated. 

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Up to this point, the challenge with free space optical links, which use fiber optics and lasers for transmission have been the turbulence or distortions from temperature differences that cause motion or wind in the atmosphere, the Air Force stated. 

The system, which comes from laser experts at AOptix Technologies, employs what the Air Force calls adaptive optics for transmission of high data-rate video and audio signals over long distances.  

According to AOptix its system features a bi-directional, adaptive optics method of beam control to compensate for real-time atmospheric turbulence. Video, voice and data is transmitted through the air over an invisible, extremely low power, eye-safe, free-space optical laser link, the company stated. 

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The Air Force recently completed tests on another high-speed system for air-to-ground communications.  The Air Force said the tests on its Advanced Beyond-Line-of-Sight Terminals, or FAB-T system utilized Military Strategic and Tactical Relay satellites and was operated jointly by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory and the Electronic Systems Center.  The FAB-T system will ultimately be capable of sending data at rates over 300Mbps, according to Boeing, the lead contractor of the system. 

The systems' main selling points are that it interoperates and can be used to send data, voice and video across the Air Force, Navy and Army extremely high frequency systems. FAB-T also uses a common design and open architecture allow the integration of multiple satellites and is easy to upgrade, the Air Force claims. 

And the military has other uses for lasers.  The airborne military laser which promises to destroy, damage or disable targets with little to no collateral damage this summer passed its first actual use test. 

Boeing and the US Air Force said that on Aug. 30, a C-130H aircraft armed with Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) blasted a target test vehicle on the ground for the first time.  According to Boeing, the C-130 fired its 12,000lb high-power chemical laser through the beam control system while flying over White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The beam control system acquired the ground target and guided the laser beam to the target.

Meanwhile others have lasers on their minds.  The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said this year they want to develop a laser system the goes way beyond today's opto-mechanical, acousto-optical or electro-optical systems to establish photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology that will provide video frame rate beam steering speeds, and emit multiple beams with a total output power of 10 W. 

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