DVIDS – News – NSWC Dahlgren Division Engineers Develop Low-Cost Modernized SAL Finder

NSWC Dahlgren Division engineers have developed a new, lower cost Semi-Active Laser (SAL) seeker.

SAL seekers are a key enabling technology for guided munitions that allow warfighters to target stationary and moving targets in areas where GPS is unavailable.

SAL seekers work in tandem with an operator who directs a pulsed infrared laser at targets. The seeker, usually in the nose of laser-guided munitions, detects the laser energy reflected from the target and guides the munition to the operator’s mark with high precision. This partnership ensures that the right target is engaged.

The seeker developed by Dahlgren Division engineers is smaller, three to five times less expensive than comparable laser seekers, and is based on modern electronic designs not only to ensure relevance, but also to improve performance and highlight implements the next generation of signal processing and countermeasures. As precision weapon requirements continue to increase, the design is ready to support integration with imaging systems. Improved terminal seekers will be instrumental in the development of future guided munitions systems.

“In response to change in force design, combat function and upcoming trends, we are pivoting technologically to stay ahead of the game,” said Luke Steelman, program manager for Enhanced Expeditionary Engagement Capability.

Traditional SAL seeker systems use a gimballed detector element to track the laser dot as it moves relative to the weapon. Dahlgren engineers were able to develop a new combination of fixed optics and software algorithms to replicate the capability without the need for those expensive and sensitive moving parts. This has not only led to a smaller, more cost-effective product, but also a product that helps ensure compatibility with the next generation system currently in development.

Additionally, the new seeker design also includes an integrated burst height sensor capable of measuring ground proximity and signaling weapon fuze to create a highly accurate burst function without the need for an additional sensor on the guided ammunition, save more space and reduce cost.

Dahlgren produced over 50 prototypes, 30 of which were tested in live fire on multiple weapon systems, including the 81mm Extended Capability Mortar (ACERM), and successfully guided systems to stationary and moving targets .

Michael St. Vincent, chief engineer for the project, said direct feedback from fighters was critical to the success of the development process.

“We would get feedback from fighters — what kind of targets they’re aiming for, what they look like, and also what requirements they have to meet,” St. Vincent said. “If they needed more range or more field of view…we would do simulations and make changes and new iterations that would come closer to what they want.

Dahlgren has long been involved in terminal-finding technology, but in recent years the combat function has shifted to very long-range engagements. These long-range engagements keep fighters and targeting assets away from adversaries, but often prevent the use of laser-guided munitions.

Despite increased engagement ranges, Steelman says laser-guided munitions that use the SAL seeker will always be a mainstay in combatant toolboxes for one reason: target assurance.

“If the operator puts a dot on a target, he tells me ‘that’s your target, not the left one, not the right one, that one,'” St. Vincent noted. “Laser guidance will always provide 99.99% assurance that a specific truck or boat is your target.”

Date taken: 04.06.2022
Date posted: 19.04.2022 20:08
Story ID: 418796
Location: DAHLGREN, Virginia, USA

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