25 May 2010


Pranalytica launches 2W QCL system covering 4 micron spectral gap for air defense

Pranalytica Inc of Santa Monica, CA, USA, which manufactures quantum cascade lasers and laser-based trace gas detection equipment for industrial, environmental, military, and security applications, has launched the Model 1101-40 2W, fully packaged, continuous-wave, room-temperature quantum cascade laser (QCL) system emitting at a wavelength of 4 microns, marking what is claimed to be a breakthrough in the development of directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) systems for commercial and military aircraft.

Pranalytica previously announced a 2W version of its Model 1101-46 QCL system operating at 4.6 microns. The firm claims that availability of the shorter-wavelength (4 micron) mid-infrared QCL system now makes it the only commercial supplier able to provide a complete solution for 3.8-4.8 micron-band sources based on semiconductor lasers needed for the protection of aircraft from MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems, or shoulder-fired missiles).

According to the US Department of State, MANPADS have been manufactured in more than 20 countries. Unfortunately, a substantial number of these missile systems have found their way into the hands of insurgents and terrorists and have been used to attack more than 40 civilian aircraft, resulting in more than 400 casualties. According to a recent report by the Federation of American Scientists, possession of MANPADS continues to be a threat in many parts of the world.

For several years, the US Department of Defense has supported a large effort to develop a new generation of laser-based DIRCM systems to dramatically improve the level of protection available to aircraft against heat-seeking missiles. Since 2004, the Department of Homeland Security also conducted extensive analysis, demonstration and testing of technologies to counter the threat to commercial aircraft during take-off and landing from shoulder-fired missiles.

The Homeland Security Counter-MANPADS program is now looking at adapting DIRCM technology systems used on select military aircraft for commercial use, which are expected to provide unprecedented improvement in protection against MANPADS in the event of a terrorist action and potentially save lives and reduce economic disruption caused by a successful attack.

Pranalytica's latest development is a second key component of highly effective, reliable and affordable countermeasures systems for military and commercial aircraft defense applications, said founder, president & CEO Dr. C. Kumar N. Patel at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) in San Jose, CA. “This rapid technological advancement represents a significant leap forward in meeting the needs of our aerospace, defense and homeland security customers and puts Pranalytica in the unique position as the only supplier of mid-wave infrared (MWIR) semiconductor laser-based solutions for affordable countermeasures against MANPADS," he adds. "Our customers now have a complete MWIR solution that provides primary, electrically pumped semiconductor lasers operating at room temperature without the need of cryogenic or even water cooling, covering the 3.8-4.8 micron spectral band.”

Pranalytica has already supplied a 2W versions of its QCL system, operating in the 'red' (longer wavelength) sub-band of the 3.8-4.8 micron spectrum, since June 2009 to most tier-one aerospace and defense contractors. However, until now, application engineers have been forced to use laser sources other than primary semiconductor lasers for covering the critical 'blue' region of the spectrum at 3.8-4.2 microns for infrared countermeasures.

The new 2W, 4 micron version of the room-temperature-operation QCL system maintains the same output beam quality of earlier Pranalytica systems in the 'red' band, and offers much lower cost per watt. The 2W system is a turnkey solution and fully lab tested with several thousand hours of in-house testing time. As before, the laser package is hermetically sealed for reliable operation in adverse environments and the laser output is collimated using an internal lens system. In addition to DIRCM, Pranalytica’s 2W QCL systems in the blue and red bands of the 3.8-4.8 micron spectrum can be used to enhance other applications such as LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and free-space optical communications.

Even though QCL systems were first demonstrated more than 16 years ago at Bell Labs (where Patel led all Physics and Materials Science Research efforts from 1981 to 1993), it is only through Pranalytica’s recent offerings that high-power, continuous-wave, room-temperature turnkey QCLs have become commercially available, the firm claims. The systems are enablers for many critical defense and homeland security applications. Driven by the needs of DARPA-funded contracts to detect chemical warfare agents and explosives and to increase the wall-plug efficiency of QCLs, Pranalytica has gained expertise in high-power QCLs. Reliable high-power operation of the QCL has been enabled through advances in the QCL structure's fundamental design that are patent protected by Pranalytica.

Pranalytica has also developed industrial-grade processing of the lasers, including high-reliability facet coatings and fully integrated hermetic laser packages for high-reliability practical applications. The firm claims that high-power QCLs offer game-changing capabilities for DIRCM systems due to their small size, low weight, low power consumption, high reliability, and potentially lower cost. Unlike just a year ago, application engineers no longer need to be experts in QCL technology to incorporate the lasers into defense and homeland security systems, the firm adds.

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