Illustration of the HELMA-P system in action | Photo Credit: Cilas
The 2024 Summer Olympics ought to be one of the grandest Olympics in history, as France – the host of the event – has begun its preparations.
Holding the beach volleyball with the Eiffel Tower in the view, donning the beauty of the Versailles Palace garden, holding the grand opening of the Olympics in Seine, are just some of the visualizations that have already sprung from the French organizers.
However, the latest plan set forth by France in making the Olympics memorable to all goers is not related to scenery or leisure, but security. If successfully executed, Olympics 2024 in France will have a laser drone system that would shoot down drones hovering over the venues.
HELMA-P, is an anti-drone laser weapon system that has been the latest interest of the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. The agency announced in June that it has ordered for a prototype of the HELMA-P as preparation for its deployment during the 2024 Olympics.
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“The HELMA-P system provides a calibrated response to the drone threat, from dazzling the drone’s observation instruments to the neutralization of a mini or micro drone (from 100g to 25kg) by altering its structure, causing it to fall in a few seconds,” said the ministry.
Security is paramount for the 2024 Olympics
The French Ministry has long raised its anti-drone campaign. The campaign started in 2019 and should be finished in 2025. The HELMA-P prototype should “deepen the military’s understanding of its deployment,” added the ministry in a statement.
Further, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said to the press that they have nothing against the proposition as the ‘security of the Games’ is a big responsibility placed unto the local authorities.
Jean, the chief engineer of the General Directorate for Armament, said that the HELMA-P shoots powerful laser beams that cause drones to overheat or shutdown. The GDA is part of the ministry and is a department that heads the development and purchase of the agency’s weapons.
According to the ministry, they will withhold Jean’s last name for security purposes.
There has been an exponential increase in the threats of drones over the years. It is something to consider most especially during events that gather large crowd – the Olympics, for example – said Phillippe Grow, a senior research fellow at the France security and defense think tank Foundation for Strategic Research.
As a military utility, drones have been useful in identifying the exact location of a target. Recent modifications of drones have also led some units to carry weapons and explosives. In the war between Ukraine and Russia, mini drones have played significant roles. And this is what the French military is looking out for.
The HELMA-P system
The laser unit, which is capable of heating drones that it detects, is also equipped with radar and radio sensors to heighten its capacity to detect drones. The HELMA-P has a one-kilometer killing range, reveals Jean; and once it detects a drone within the range, it will immediately activate its drone-killing mechanism.
While the system presents an effective strategy in fending off harmful drones across the venue of the Olympics, Jean said that it could also pose threats to highly-populated area like Paris.
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“An important part of the anti-drone laser program is the safe operation of this weapon,” the chief engineer said. The discretion in shooting down drones detected will be dependent on the team managing the controls of the HELMA-P system.
“This decision will take into account the fact that the fall of the damaged drone could lead to some danger,” Jean added.
“One of the reasons lasers are interesting is that, compared to interception missiles, there are no explosives involved and even if the drone explodes, it’s just its debris that will fall. In general, it brings less collateral damage,” Gros said.
“The system is quite stealthy since it does not emit light because the laser in fact is invisible,” Jean added.