NPS Meteorologist Seeks to Advance Prediction Methods for High Energy Laser Deployment
By Javier Chagoya
Recently, NPS Professor of Meteorology Dr. Qing Wang, center, was selected as a co-recipient of a $3 million research project to improve analysis tools and prediction methods to quantify atmospheric effects on High Energy Lasers (HEL). Wang will act as the lead principal investigator (PI) overseeing the project that is spread over a five-year period collaborating with two other universities, the Naval Research Laboratory and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).
“My project was one of two selected for funding by HEL-JTO on the topic of atmospheric effects, which is very exciting. There are many aspects to the overall HEL program, but it ultimately has to do with effectively advancing the development and operations of future HEL weapons,” said Wang.
The High Energy Laser-Joint Technology Office (HEL-JTO) is the sponsor for Wang’s project titled ‘Quantifying and Understanding Environmental Turbulence Affecting Lasers (QueTal)’. Wang will be collaborating with PIs from the University of Minnesota and the University of Central Florida.
Wang will have the support of a small team of NPS meteorology master’s and doctoral students along with research associates to study the effects of atmospheric turbulence on optical propagation.
“While we cannot control the atmospheric effects, it’s very important to be able to characterize and predict them to assist the HEL weapon system design and operation,” said Wang.
The technical goal for Wang and her collaborators is to understand and predict the effects of turbulence along the HEL propagation path through extensive in situ measurements and fine-scale modeling of atmospheric turbulence, thermodynamics, and optical propagation over both marine and land environments.
Wang uses an example of observing heat waves rising up from pavement that distort the appearance of a distant object to explain the optical turbulence phenomenon. Termed scintillation, which leads to beam spread and distortion as the laser beam propagates through the lower atmosphere before reaching the ultimate target.
“We not only need to know what’s occurring at the near-surface over the ocean, we must also consider the scintillation effects over land surfaces as the HEL weapons systems are deployed over land as well,” added Wang.
Wang is also the lead PI for Coupled Air-Sea Processes and Electromagnetic ducting Research (CASPER), a five-year Office of Naval Research (ONR) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) project funded in 2014. This collaborative effort involves dozens of researchers and students investigating the atmospheric ducting effects on radar and communication signals, a high-priority Navy topic under its Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare (EMW) Strategy.
Wang will conduct a second phase field campaign of CASPER this fall using multiple platforms, including research aircraft, research vessel, and Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP), all deployed off the coast of Southern California. An optical component will be piggybacking on this project to enable collection of optical attenuation in the undisturbed marine environment through turbulence and aerosol absorption and scattering. Analyses of this rich dataset will follow the month-long field measurement campaign.
“We also will be able to validate numerical simulations by the University of Minnesota’s Large Eddy Simulation (LES) model and to ensure that the model is representing the right physics,” said Wang.
Ultimately, the research will evolve environment prediction to effectively deploy a ship based laser weapon against its target, providing a real-time operational advantage in the battlespace.
Accompanying Wang are NPS meteorology students, left, Maj. Benjamin Wauer, Lt. Anna Hook and NPS Faculty Associate Ryan Yamaguchi.