BAE zaps pirates with new laser defense system

Posted by Emma Woollacott

BAE Systems has developed a new weapon to help defeat pirates on the high seas - by dazzling them with laser light.

The company's tested the system and says it's effective against moving targets as far away as a mile. It's non-lethal, and has no lasting effect on its victims, says BAE - important in cases of mistaken identity.

It's been developed primarily to fight off the growing threat from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. There were over four hundred incidents of piracy worldwide last year, and 51 hijackings.

It works by dazzling the pirates, manking the ship which carries the device effectively invisible in a bright green glare. The idea is to distract the pirates and delay or prevent an attack.

"The demonstration held at a Laser Trials Range helped understand, at a high level, the effects of laser distraction techniques using low powered lasers, over a variety of distances in a number of weather conditions both day and night," says BAE.

"Sensors were placed at the target location to demonstrate the level of beam intensity and divergence produced by the various test runs. Beam oscillation techniques were also demonstrated."

The three-foot-wide beam of light works during daylight as well as at night, says BAE. If the pirates get within about 500 meters, the power can be stepped up to cause greater distraction and confusion. It can also be used to fire quick burts of light at several ships simultaneously, producing a flickering effect that's even more dazzling.

The device can be used with high frequency surface radar to detect the presence of pirate ships and fire automatically. It will have to be approved for use under the UN’s protocol on blinding laser weapons, but could be available as early as next year.