Illustration of the HELMA-P system in action | Photo Credit: Cilas
As France, the event’s host, has started making preparations, the 2024 Summer Olympics should be among the greatest Olympics in history.
The French organizers have already come up with several visions, some of which include holding beach volleyball matches with the Eiffel Tower in the background, dressing up the Versailles Palace garden, and holding the Olympics’ opening ceremony in the Seine.
However, security, not landscape or leisure, is the focus of France’s most recent strategy for making the Olympics memorable for everyone who attends. A laser drone system that shoots down drones floating over the sites will be part of the Olympics in France in 2024 if it is implemented correctly.
HELMA-P is a laser anti-drone weapon system that has piqued the interest of the French Ministry of Defense. The agency announced in June that it had ordered a prototype of the HELMA-P in preparation for its deployment during the 2024 Olympics.
“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 defense ministry.
Top priority for Olympics is citizens’ security
The French Ministry of Defense has long waged an anti-drone campaign. The campaign began in 2019 and is expected to conclude in 2025. The HELMA-P prototype should “deepen the military’s understanding of its deployment,” according to the ministry.
Furthermore, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told the press that they have nothing against the proposal because the ‘security of the Games’ is a large responsibility placed on the local governments.
The Helma-P drone system emits powerful laser beams that cause the drones to heat up or shut down, said Jean, chief engineer for the Ordnance Directorate. The GDA is part of the ministry and is the section that manages the development and acquisition of the arms of the ministry.
Jean’s last name will be withheld, according to the ministry, out of concern for the chief engineer’s safety.
Threats from drones has grown
The threat from drones has grown exponentially over the years. It’s something to keep in mind especially during events that attract a lot of people, like the Olympics, says Phillippe Grow, senior researcher at the French think tank Foundation for Strategic Research.
As a military utility, drones were useful to identify the exact location of a target. Recent changes to drones have also led certain units to carry weapons and explosives. In the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, mini drones have played significant roles. And that’s what French soldiers are cautious about.
Helma-P and its mechanisms
The laser unit, which can heat the drones it detects, is also equipped with radar and radio sensors to increase its ability to detect drones. The HELMA-P has a range of one kilometer, reveals Jean; and once he detects a drone in range, he will immediately activate his drone killing mechanism.
While the system is an effective strategy for defending against harmful drones across the Olympic venue, Jean believes it could pose a threat to densely populated areas such as Paris.
“The safe operation of this weapon is an important part of the anti-drone laser program,” the chief engineer said. The team in charge of the HELMA-P system will have the final say on whether or not to shoot down detected drones.
“This decision will take into account the fact that the fall of the damaged drone could lead to some danger,” the lead engineer 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,” said Gros.
“The system is quite stealthy since it does not emit light because the laser in fact is invisible,” added Jean.
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