Within the next fifty years, some scientists believe battlefield commanders could deploy a new type of directed energy laser and lens system.
To be produced by BAE, the system is called a Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL).
It's hoped it would be capable of enhancing commanders' ability to observe enemies' activities over much greater distances than can be done now with existing sensors.
At the same time, the lens 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 that could also become a reality during the same time period. Professor Nick Colosimo, of BAE Systems, said:
"Working with some of the best scientific minds in the UK, we’re able to incorporate emerging and disruptive technologies and evolve the landscape of potential military technologies in ways that, five or ten years ago, many would never have dreamed possible."
The system would work by simulating naturally occurring phenomena and temporarily changing the Earth's atmosphere into lens-like structures to magnify or change the path of electromagnetic waves such as light and radio signals.
The idea is to copy two existing effects in nature: the reflective properties of the ionosphere, and desert mirages.
The ionosphere occurs at a very high altitude and is a naturally occurring layer of the Earth’s atmosphere which can be reflective to radio waves. For example, it results in listeners being able to tune into radio stations that are many thousands of miles away.
The radio signals bounce off the ionosphere allowing them to travel very long distances through the air and over the Earth’s surface.
The desert mirage provides the illusion of a distant lake in the hot desert. This is because the light from the blue sky is 'bent' or refracted by the hot air near the surface and into the vision of the person looking into the distance.
LDAL would simulate both of these effects by using a high pulsed power laser system and exploiting a phenomenon called the 'Kerr Effect' to temporarily ionise or heat a small region of the atmosphere in a structured way.