Sourth Korea - Directed Energy Weapons

Counter-UAV LaserThe Defense Science Research Institute (ADD) has been researching beam combining and tracking/aiming technologies to improve output through core technology research. The laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) weapon, an imaginary weapon that appeared in sci-fi movies, development project, was launched based on these technologies.

Korea has already independently developed a level of technology capable of intercepting short-range low-speed targets. Based on this, the National Research Institute is developing a technology to respond to long-range, high-speed targets and a technology to mount a mobile platform. The demonstration of the power of a laser anti-aircraft weapon that fires a powerful laser beam was held in September 2020 at the Anheung Test Site of the National Research Institute in Taean, South Chungcheong Province. In the demonstration at the time, a 20kW output laser beam pierced an iron plate target at a distance of 1km. The target used in the demonstration was made of the same material as the North Korean Nodong missile or the North Korean drone discovered in Paju in 2014.

Because of the challenge of miniaturization, in order to make a high-power laser of several tens of kW with destructive power, a considerable level of power supply is required. Equipment to cool the heated equipment is also essential. The problem is that it's huge. As a result, it is difficult to mount on mobile vehicles and aircraft. A typical household microwave oven is 1 kW. If it is 30?, the output is 30 times higher than this. According to the industry, it is known that 50 to 60 kW output is required to shoot down drones, 100 kW output to destroy anti-tank missiles, and 300 kW output to disable cruise missiles. According to the Congressional Research Service of the United States, the laser weapon output, which is currently at the level of 150kW capable of intercepting UAVs, is expected to develop to 300kW in 2022 and 500kW in 2025, making it possible to intercept cruise missiles. It is expected that by 2030, a 1MW-class laser weapon capable of intercepting ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles will be developed.

Experiments for practical deployment are being conducted. For ground operations, low-power lasers are mounted on wheeled and track-type armored vehicles, and high-power lasers are mounted on trucks. Research and development has been actively underway since the 1960s under the name of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). America's Adam uses 10kW, Athena uses 30kW, Israel's iron beam uses 20kW, and Germany's 'HEL Effector' uses a fiber laser with an output of 20-30kW. All of these laser weapons are for intercepting UAVs penetrating at a low altitude of 1 to 2 km. U.S. defense companies GA-EMS and Boeing announced in October 2021 that they had signed a contract with the U.S. Army to develop a 300kW-class laser weapon. This is twice the performance of the current 150kW laser weapon used on ships by the US Navy. If the previous performance is at a level that can be used for drone shooting down and missile defense, the 300 kW will be able to shoot down or destroy enemy aircraft and missiles that are rushing towards friendly forces.

There are many advantages to laser weapons, which can be used virtually without restrictions at a low cost. The first is that as soon as it is fired, it reaches the target point with great speed. It fires thermal energy at the speed of light (300,000 km/s), so it takes no time to reach the target. The second is cost effectiveness. There is no need for ammunition, and as long as there is a power supply, it can be used at no cost. It is known that the cost of shooting a single shot ranges from 1,200 won to 12,000 won. The price of one THAAD missile is 11 billion won, and the cost of constructing and maintaining the THAAD base is astronomical.A single domestic surface-to-air missile, such as Shingung, is also known to cost about 200 million won.

There are many reasons why developed countries are competing for development. Laser weapons minimize damage to allies.The ammunition used in conventional weapons is dangerous because of its high explosive power. Unfired ammunition, such as ammunition units, ammunition depots, and friendly weapon systems, can explode and cause damage to allies.Laser weapons, on the other hand, are powered by electrical devices that are less likely to explode.

The downside of laser weapons is the reduced power caused by atmospheric materials.The laser is absorbed or scattered by dust, smoke, water vapor, and turbulence in the atmosphere.In this case, the energy decreases and refracts according to the distance, making it difficult to attack the target.Another problem is that the greater the laser output, the greater the decrease in power due to atmospheric conditions. Laser weapons melt, set fire and destroy the surface of metal or synthetic targets at considerable distances. If the laser beam output is low, the enemy cannot be destroyed in a short time, and as a result, the number of targets that can be attacked per unit time is reduced.

Current laser weapons are known to be more effective at neutralizing small drones and multicopters than high-speed fighters. It does not require ammunition and is inexpensive, so it has the advantage of quickly destroying a large number of drones. It is also the reason why the Defense Acquisition Program Administration is pushing for the development of drone-catching laser anti-aircraft weapons by 2023. In September 2019, a large-scale drone bombing occurred at an oil refinery in Abqaiq and Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia. Yemeni rebels attacked with a dozen drones loaded with bombs. If an unmanned aerial vehicle is loaded with about 3 to 4 kg of explosives to hit a desired target, it can not only kill people but also damage key facilities. If radioactive materials or biochemicals of this weight are loaded, the scale of human casualties increases. However, small drones are difficult to detect on the ground when flying high in the air, and are difficult to intercept because of their high speed.

In November 2020 Hanwha first publicly displayed models and infromation of two laser Counter-UAV [CUAV/CUAS] systems (a 20kW and a 30kW system) and a 3kW CIED laser system at DX Korea 2020, South Korea’s specialized defense exhibition. The DX Korea 2020, which is short for Defense and Security Expo Korea, started on Nov. 18 at KINTEX, Gyeonggi Province, to continue through 20 November 2020. A much larger 100 kW system was also being investigated. Described as “Korean-style Star Wars technology”, the three laser system variants included a light tactical vehicle equipped with a laser weapon, a laser-based anti-aircraft weapon in a container configuration (Block-I), and a self-propelled system (Block-II). These systems arintedned to neutralize small drones with a light laser.

Also displayed was an advanced variant of laser that would use a solid-state heat capacity laser beam to neutralize surface landmines and unexploded ordnance. This new vehicle-mounted system, called the Laser System for Explosive Disposal or LSED, is designed to neutralize surface landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Former Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said in a special contribution to the April 2021 issue of the Monthly Air Force, 'When You Should Open Your Eyes to Space', "Satellites launched in Korea rotate regularly, and we need to prepare a monitoring system to see if these are operating normally. "Even though the air force currently has only a way to intercept satellites using missiles, we need to have a directional energy weapon system through high-power lasers in the future," he said.

Korea has a small laser industry, so most of its laser parts are imported from abroad, but in the military, localizing parts is a big issue. The military is trying to lay the foundation for developing parts, but they are still importing parts. Manpower training is also a problem. Lee Ju-han, a professor of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Seoul, said, "The gap widened because the government did not invest much in domestic lasers at one time, believing that they would not have a significant impact on the domestic industry for about 20 years. There are real problems,” he said. He continued, “The biggest problem is that there is no professional manpower to work in the company,” he said.