26 March 2024

ADF to buy its first laser-based counter-drone system

| Andrew McLaughlin
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counter-drone systems

The Australian-designed and built Fractl:2 DE system can shoot down a drone travelling at 100 km/h. Photo: AIM Defence.

The Australian Defence Force has contracted Melbourne-based AIM Defence to build a deployable directed energy (DE) system for counter-drone testing and evaluation.

The $4.9 million contract marks the first time the ADF has acquired a DE weapons system for counter-drone applications.

The Fractl:2 DE system is Australian-designed and built, and is capable of burning through steel and tracking and shooting down a drone travelling at 100 km/h.

Counter-drone technology is rapidly becoming a priority for defence forces worldwide following the success of commercially derived drones on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Small first-person view (FPV) drones costing less than $1000 have been rapidly and successfully adapted to carry electronic warfare, sensor and explosive payloads, and have taken a high toll on personnel, armoured and ”soft” vehicles, and even buildings on both sides of the conflict.

READ ALSO Australia joins multinational ‘drone coalition’ to supply machines to Ukraine

The tripod-mounted Fractl:2 is portable and battery-powered, and can shoot down as many as 50 drones per charge. It can be recharged via a domestic wall socket, or can remain plugged in for continuous operation.

The system has been in development since 2019 in collaboration with the Royal Australian Air Force’s Jericho Disruptive Innovation (JDI), the Australian Army’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Implementation and Coordination Office (RICO), and the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST).

“Countering drones and other autonomous weapons systems has emerged as one of the most critically needed capabilities for militaries worldwide,” AIM Defence co-founder Jessica Glenn said.

“For the past four years, AIM Defence has been working with Australia’s defence innovation ecosystem to build a cost-effective, high-precision and deployable directed energy system. Fractl:2 is the culmination of that effort.”

The Fractl:2 has the added advantage of being eye-safe, in that its DE laser limits the blinding risk associated with typical one-micron systems. By comparison, operators and others in the vicinity of comparable high-power laser (HPL) systems are required to wear safety eyewear.

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AIM Defence co-founder Dr Jae Daniel said the company had successfully demonstrated more than 200 drone defeats both indoors and outdoors over the past two years.

“Each time, [we’re] improving the Fractl capabilities and learning how to safely deploy directed energy,” he said.

“By having this focus, we’ve been able to engineer our 1-micron Fractl:1 system to be orders of magnitude safer than other DE systems.

“The evolution of Fractl to the Fractl:2 variant reduces the collateral hazard again, by a factor of 100. This makes it the safest and most deployable High Power Laser system in the world, by quite a margin.”

AIM Defence has also been invited by the Canadian Department of National Defence to demonstrate a high-power laser system in an international counter-drone exercise in May and June.

The Fractl system will be demonstrated alongside 14 other companies from around the globe against ‘Red Team’ drones in a series of real-world scenarios at the 2024 Counter Uncrewed Aerial Systems Sandbox.

The Sandbox exercise is centred on detecting and defeating micro and mini drones, and is hosted under Canada’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program.

AIM Defence says it expects the Fractl:2 DE system to be in the hands of ADF operators by mid-2024.

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