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DARPA's 'revolutionary' laser research hopes to boost military radar and keep clocks in sync

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DARPA has published a request for "revolutionary" research into the use of ultrafast lasers, with potential applications including the accurate transfer of timing information between hyper-accurate clocks.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the US government department whose work has had a significant impact on the development of the internet and the world wide web — is seeking proposals for "revolutionary" research into the use of ultrafast lasers. The agency states that the technology could find "broad application across the Department of Defense," including in radar, communications, and various types of scanning.

Known as the Program in Ultrafast Laser Science and Engineering (PULSE), DARPA's initiative is focused on lasers which emit discrete pulses of radiation at intervals of a femtosecond or less. One specific use for this extreme speed would be to transfer timing information between hyper-accurate clocks. Current transfer methods — for example, microwaves — are unable to match the efficiency of the timekeeping devices themselves, creating problems for machines such as GPS satellites. DARPA is also interested in more military-focused applications such as long-range radar for warships.

DARPA's request for proposals specifically excludes "research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice," pushing for the sort of work that is likely to significantly disrupt the field — the full document can be found at the Federal Business Opportunities site. While the precise amount of the funding on offer is not provided, the agency encourages bodies including universities and small businesses to submit details of their proposed research along with cost estimates to help gauge how valuable it could be.