The U.S. Army wants high-powered, rapidly tunable infrared lasers to detect chemical weapons.
"High-power sources that can be wavelength-tuned extremely rapidly are needed for the detection and identification of chemical vapors, aerosols, residues on surfaces," reads the small business innovation research solicitation.
The Army suggests these devices have great potential. According to the solicitation, technology and industrial tooling used to produce “high-power rapidly tunable infrared sources covering the long wave infrared region have the potential to revolutionize current infrared analysis and remote sensing methods.”
While private industry has made great strides, the difficulty has been converting their work into tunable IR lasers that are portable and rugged enough for field use. "Since wavelength tuning requires mechanical motion of bulk optical components, tuning between two arbitrary wavelengths is relatively slow and the opto-mechanical assemblies are not robust against the rigors of operational military use of the technology," said the Army. Most such commercial lasers are also limited to peak power of a fraction of a watt.
The Army wants a laser that can generate a peak of more than five watts of power, operates across the 7 to 11 micron band, and doesn't weigh more than 10 pounds.