Paris Olympics: French government orders prototype laser weapon for 2024 Games

A final but less glamorous addition to his Olympic arsenal is a laser weapon system that will shoot drones out of the sky.

The French Armed Forces Ministry announced in June that it had ordered one prototype anti-drone laser weapon system, called HELMA-P, to be deployed to Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

“The HELMA-P system provides a calculated response to the drone threat, from blinding the drone’s surveillance equipment to neutralizing a mini or micro drone (100g to 25kg) by changing its structure, causing it to fall in a few seconds. “, the ministry said in a statement.

“Changing its structure” is a good way to burn a hole in any potential drone.

The prototype will also help “deepen the military’s understanding of its deployment” as the anti-drone campaign is a priority set by the French Armed Forces Ministry for the period 2019-2025, the statement said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) told CNN that local authorities are responsible for the safety of the Games.

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The HELMA-P system can fire powerful laser beams that heat the drones to the point where they either burn out or overheat and shut down, according to Jean, chief weapons engineer at the ministry’s General Armaments Directorate, which is responsible for weapons development and procurement. .

The ministry declined to give Jin’s last name for security reasons.

According to Philippe Gros, senior fellow at the French security and defense think tank at the Foundation for Strategic Studies, the threat of drones has increased exponentially in recent years, including in connection with major events such as the Olympic Games.

Drones can be used to scan and search a given area to locate potential targets. They could also be modified to carry weapons or explosives. The mini-drones targeted by the French system are playing an active role on the front lines in Ukraine.

In addition to the laser unit, the drone defense system will also include radar and RF sensors to help detect drones. Once identified, the weapon, developed by CILAS, owned by the French defense giant ArianeGroup, has a range of one kilometer, Jean said.

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But the use of such powerful weapons in densely populated Paris, where visitors from all over the world flock to celebrate the Olympics, raises security concerns.

“An important part of the program to combat unmanned lasers is the safe operation of these weapons,” Jin said.

The team working on the ground will decide if they should shoot down the drone or not.

“This decision will take into account the fact that the fall of a damaged drone can lead to some danger,” Jean said.

According to experts, the laser weapon system is also one of the most cost-effective ways to deal with the growing threats of drones in urban areas.

“One of the reasons why lasers are interesting is that, compared to interceptor missiles, they do not use explosives, and even if the drone explodes, only its debris will fall. Overall, it does less collateral damage,” Gros told CNN.

Laser weapons have other advantages, including accuracy and low maintenance; They don’t need ammunition, Gross said, which helps explain their growing popularity among military powers like the US, China, France and the UK.

In terms of drone avoidance, the HELMA-P system and other similar laser weapon systems fill a gap in which traditional drone countermeasures are struggling to keep up with new developments in drone technology.

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“The problem is that drones are becoming more and more autonomous, they can perform many parts of the mission without an operator,” Gros said.

This means that the traditional way of jamming signals between drones and operators may become obsolete.

At present, laser weapons against drones still have many weaknesses. For example, bad weather affects their accuracy and efficiency. Gross says the industry is still on a learning path.

For tourists visiting Paris in 2024, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has assured that its laser weapons will not distract the public too much.

“The system is pretty inconspicuous as it doesn’t emit light because the laser is effectively invisible,” Jin said.

“He doesn’t make any noise either. It’s actually a very inconspicuous weapon.”