A Bristol company is working on laser technology that could act as a shield on battlefields of the future.

“This is a tremendously exciting time in laser physics”


Specialist optical sensor developer LumOptica is working with BAE Systems on a ‘Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens’ (LDAL). This lens, created electrically in the atmosphere, could be used as a form of ‘deflector shield’ to protect friendly aircraft, ships, land vehicles and troops from incoming attacks by high power laser weapons.

“This is a tremendously exciting time in laser physics. Emerging technologies will allow us to enter new scientific territories and explore ever new applications,” said Craig Stacey, CEO at LumOptica who worked at BAE Systems in Bristol before setting up the company in 2014. “We are delighted to be working with BAE Systems on the application of such game-changing technologies, evaluating concepts which are approaching the limits of what is physically possible and what might be achieved in the future.”

The technology has been evaluated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and LumOptica. It works by simulating naturally occurring phenomena and temporarily – and reversibly – changes the Earth’s ionosphere at high altitudes into lens-like structures to magnify or change the path of electromagnetic waves such as light and radio signals. It is the same effect that allows short wave radio to work across many thousands of miles.

The Kerr effect

LDAL uses a physics phenomena called the ‘Kerr Effect’ to temporarily ionise or heat a small region of atmosphere in a structured way.

Professor Bryan Edwards, Leader of STFC’s Defence, Security and Resilience Futures Programme said of the work: “For this evaluation project, STFC’s Central Laser Facility team worked closely with colleagues at BAE Systems and by harnessing our collective expertise and capabilities we have been able to identify new ways in which cutting-edge technology, and our understanding of fundamental physical processes and phenomena, has the potential to contribute to enhancing the safety and security of the UK.”

You can find out more at the Lomoptica website or by following them on Twitter here: @LumOptica

Nick Flaherty