Laser Focus: The LOCATES laser countermeasure system will be tested on a Canadian Royal Navy Halifax-class frigate in January. (US Navy)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Shore-based laser-guided missiles of increasing range are being deployed by potentially hostile nations to limit the ability of warships to operate in coastal waters.
To counter the growing laser threat, Canada’s Department of National Defence and a European firm are joining forces to develop a system that would enable ships to quickly detect and defeat such area-denial weapons.
Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the science agency for Canada’s military, is working with Cassidian, the defense and security division of EADS, in the development of LOCATES, or Laser Optical Countermeasures and Surveillance Against Threat Environment Scenarios.
The system is designed to deal with the increasing threats posed by lasers, whether they are used as range finders, target designators or to guide missiles.
Naval ships are particularly vulnerable in a littoral environment where attacks can be difficult to detect without sufficient warning time, Canadian military officers have said.
A prototype LOCATES system has been built and tested on land. Sea testing is expected onboard a Royal Canadian Navy frigate in January, said Janot Alain, the LOCATES project manager.
“It’s a leading-edge system,” said Alain. “It’s a flexible solution that can give a lot of potential.”
LOCATES conducts three functions. It provides warning for a ship’s crew if a weapon system using a laser is targeting the vessel. It will also detect optical lenses on shore, so the LOCATES sensor will be able to pick up any type of scope or lens that is being trained on the ship. And LOCATES uses its own laser countermeasures on the threat, disrupting the missile guidance or optical sensors targeting the ship.
The CAN $18 million (US $18 million) technology demonstration project was started in 2008 by DRDC. In 2011, the Canadian government awarded Cassidian a CAN $3.5 million contract for work on the system.
If the January tests aboard the frigate go well, Alain said, plans are to use LOCATES at the US-led Rim of the Pacific naval exercise scheduled for July.
The system’s laser detectors can provide 360-degree coverage and detection is near instantaneous. Input from all of the laser detectors on a ship would be transmitted to a central processing unit, which would provide a warning that the ship is being illuminated with a laser, according to DRDC. The processing unit would use the laser receivers to locate and track the laser source, and the system’s countermeasures would be activated.
Alain said the range of the 600-kilogram system is classified.
Simon Jacques, head of Cassidian Canada, said the threat is increasing from shore-based missiles that LOCATES is being designed to deter.
“We used to say 15 miles, but the missiles are getting better and better,” he said. “The biggest threat is a laser-beam rider” missile.
He said Cassidian was doing related laser sensor work when the opportunity to join forces with DRDC came along.
The Royal Canadian Navy, he said, is looking at LOCATES for the future; he expects the Navy to outfit its new class of ships, the Canadian Surface Combatant, with such a laser protection system.
Jacques noted that there are laser warning sensors and optical sensors, but there is no product on the market that combines those functions with countermeasures into one package.
“LOCATES is a demo that is working,” Jacques said. “From that, we’ll build a real system that we intend to bid to Canada and other navies of the world.”
Martin Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto, said improvements to missile systems makes systems such as LOCATES necessary. It can be used for a range of naval operations, from combat to missions involving evacuation of citizens from the coastal area of a war-torn country.
“Without it, your ‘no-go’ zones keep shrinking and shrinking, or otherwise, if you do move into the littorals, you’re accepting an element of risk you might not want to accept,” he said.
Alain said one system can do the job of protecting a ship, but it is possible to have more than one LOCATES sensor for detection.
He said LOCATES sensors could also be used to detect small blocks of ice in the ocean that might be missed by radar, and for search-and-rescue staff to detect people in the water.