Abstract

In this article, we review and discuss the research programs at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on high-power lasers for directed-energy (DE) applications in the atmosphere. Physical processes affecting propagation include absorption/scattering, turbulence, and thermal blooming. The power levels needed for DE applications require combining a number of lasers. In atmospheric turbulence, there is a maximum intensity that can be placed on a target that is independent of the initial beam spot size and laser beam quality. By combining a number of kW-class fiber lasers, scientists at the NRL have successfully demonstrated high-power laser propagation in a turbulent atmosphere and wireless recharging. In the NRL experiments, four incoherently combined fiber lasers having a total power of 5 kW were propagated to a target 3.2 km away. These successful high-power experiments in a realistic atmosphere formed the basis of the Navy’s Laser Weapon System. We compare the propagation characteristics of coherently and incoherently combined beams without adaptive optics. There is little difference in the energy on target between coherently and incoherently combined laser beams for multi-km propagation ranges and moderate to high levels of turbulence. Unlike incoherent combining, coherent combining places severe constraints on the individual lasers. These include the requirement of narrow power spectral linewidths in order to have long coherence times as well as polarization alignment of all the lasers. These requirements are extremely difficult for high-power lasers.

© 2015 Optical Society of America

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