One of the most challenging tasks in any aerial combat situation is to determine which assets on the ground should be targeted and which ones should be avoided. This is particularly challenging in the situation where enemy assets are camouflaged or hidden amongst civilian assets. Because of this a practice commonly referred to as “painting the target” has been successfully deployed for many years to allow for ground forces to identify and designate targets for aircraft to attack
Militaries use laser designator, a laser light source to designate a target. Many different types of laser designation systems used by the military today, but they all have the same basic functionality. In a laser designation system, an infrared laser is fixed onto a target of interest and pulsed with a known frequency code. When a target is marked by a designator, the beam is invisible and does not shine continuously. Instead, a series of coded pulses of laser light are fired. These signals bounce off the target into the sky, where they are detected by the infrared receiver or seeker on the plane, missile or laser-guided munition, which steers itself towards the centre of the reflected signal.
Laser designators provide targeting for laser-guided bombs, missiles, or precision artillery munitions, such as the Paveway series of bombs, AGM-114 Hellfire, or the M712 Copperhead round, respectively. Ground laser designators identify targets for artillery, NSFS, and aircraft delivered munitions. Airborne laser target designators identify targets for all types of aircraft delivered munitions.
Unless the people being targeted possess laser detection equipment or can hear aircraft overhead, it is extremely difficult for them to determine if they are being marked. Laser designators work best in clear atmospheric conditions. Cloud cover, rain or smoke can make reliable designation of targets difficult or impossible.
Laser designators provide the energy source that is reflected from a designated target to provide terminal guidance for LGWs. These systems emit discrete pulses of infrared energy, invisible to the naked eye. Characteristics of these pulses are determined by a PRF code of the laser energy that can be set by a series of switches on the equipment. Laser target ranging systems provide accurate range, and in the case of the MULE direction and elevation information, for use in locating enemy targets or other positions but are not capable of designating for laser guided munitions
The five basic requirements to use laser designators with laser seekers or laser guided munitions follow.
- A pulse repetition frequency (PRF) code is used for the laser designator, the laser spot tracker (LST), and the laser guided weapon (LGW). Each must use the same code when operating together. An agreed upon direction of attack is necessary.
- The LST or LGW must be able to acquire the energy reflected from the target.
- The laser designator must be lasing/designating the target at the correct time and for the proper duration.
- The delivery system must release the munition within the specific munition delivery envelope.
- Line of sight must exist between the designator and the target, as well as between the target and the tracker or LGW. The LGW can have LOS before or after launch, depending upon the system capabilities.
Positive communications between the designator operator and the munition delivery means is required to coordinate the proper PRF code, the seeker/laser designator alignment, and target designation timing. Laser acquisition devices are systems that allow visual acquisition of a coded laser designated target. They must be set to the same PRF code as the laser designator for the user to see the target being lased.
According to the NATO standard STANAG 3733, the laser beam must be tight enough that the 90% of its energy is on target for 95% of the time assuming a 2.3 by 2.3 m size target. Since the idea is for the soldiers to be a safe distance (up to of 5 kilometers) from the target when they designated the target, the laser beam divergence and pointing stability are two of the most critical factors in laser designation. For example, if a laser has a half angle beam divergence of 1 mrad than its radius will expand at a rate of 1 mm per meter.
The same thing holds true for the pointing stability of the laser since very small angular variations in pointing can result in a huge positional variation of the spot size at a distance. Therefore, the making it difficult to meet the 95% stability requirement also laid out in the NATO standards.
Another property that must be considered is the accuracy of the pulse repetition rate. In order for the receiver on the munitions side to confirm the target, it must be able to confirm that the light is pulsing with the appropriate frequency code. As a result, if there is jitter in the pulse triggering then the system won’t be able to lock on regardless of the signal’s brightness
AN/PED-1 Lightweight Target Designator Rangefinder
The AN/PED-1 Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder (LLDR) is a man-portable, modular target locator and laser designation system. The primary components are the Target Locator Module and the Laser Designator Module.
The TLM incorporates a thermal imager, day camera, laser designator spot imaging, electronic display, eye-safe laser rangefinder, digital magnetic compass, Selective Availability/Anti-Spoofing Module Global Positioning System (SAASM GPS) and digital export capability. The original LLDR 1 operates on one BA-5699 battery, but it can also use a Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) battery when laser designation is not required.
A new compact laser designator is being fielded with the LLDR 2. It requires less power and operates on one common SINGARS battery. To provide a precision targeting capability to the dismounted Soldier, PM SPTD developed the LLDR 2H (AN/PED-1A). It integrates a celestial navigation system with the digital magnetic compass in the TLM. It provides highly accurate target coordinates to allow the Soldier to call for fire with precision GPS guided munitions. A Modification of in Service Equipment program will retrofit fielded LLDR 1 and 2 systems with the LLDR 2H precision targeting capability beginning in FY13.
The TLM operates as a stand-alone device or in conjunction with the LDM. At night and in obscured battlefield conditions, the operator can recognize vehiclesized targets at more than three kilometers. During day operations, targets Soldiers can recognize targets at more than seven kilometers. The LDM emits coded laser pulses compatible with DoD and NATO laser-guided munitions. Soldiers can designate targets at ranges greater than five kilometers.
Northrop Grumman Corporation has received a $17.6 million award from the U.S. Army to upgrade Target Locator Modules (TLMs). The TLMs will be retrofitted with high accuracy capability to modernize the Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder 2H (LLDR 2H) man-portable targeting system.
The LLDR 2H hybrid sensor solution fuses data from a digital magnetic compass and celestial navigation sensors to provide high accuracy target location and long-range imaging, allowing warfighters greater leverage to shape the field of engagement. Interconnectivity within the digitized battlefield enables the operator to use LLDR 2H to acquire, locate, and designate high-value targets. More than 2,700 LLDR systems have been delivered and fielded to date.
Modular Universal Lasing Equipment
The modular universal laser equipment (MULE) (AN/ PAQ-3) is a laser designator/rangefinder capable of designating moving targets to a range of 2,500 meters or stationary targets to 3,000 meters. Maximum rangefinding capability is 10,000 meters. The MULE system has a north-seeking capability that allows selforientation for direction and a readout of both grid and true azimuths. It is capable of detecting multitarget reflections.
The MULE can be operated during periods of darkness or reduced visibility at slightly reduced ranges by use of a night vision device. It can interoperate directly with the digital message system (DMS), and indirectly, through the DMS, with the battery computer system (BCS). When used in conjunction with the precision lightweight GPS receiver (PLGR), it provides accurate observer and target location. The MULE is powered by vehicle for sustained operations or battery for a shorter duration.
Military Laser Designator Market
According to a new market research report published by Transparency Market Research titled ‘Military Laser Designator Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2019–2027,’ the global military laser designator market is projected to expand at a CAGR of 4.3% during the forecast period. According to the report, the global market would continue to be influenced by a range of macroeconomic and market-specific factors, such as increasing complexity of customers, sales, and other operational data of SMEs as well as large enterprises.
Advantages offered by military laser designators and increasing production and usage of lightweight laser designators are expected to boost the global military laser designator market in the next few years.
In terms of revenue, Europe accounted for a significant share of the global military laser designator market in 2019. The region witnesses presence of a large number of aircraft manufacturers that are incorporating military laser designators in their new fighter jets. Advantages associated with laser designators are increasing their in aircraft and helicopters. Adoption of laser designators is increasing in homeland securities, while military laser designators are increasingly being employed for soldiers and troops. Moreover, increase in spending on research and development activities in aerospace and defense sectors is also expected to propel the market in Europe during the forecast period.
The top 10 players operating in the global military laser designator market and included in the report are UTC Aerospace Systems, Alpha Design Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Northrop Grumman Corporation, Thales Group, L-3 Technologies Inc., Leonardo S.P.A., General Atomics, Elbit Systems Ltd., FLIR Systems Inc., and RPMC Lasers.