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Navy laser program moves ahead
Laser program is under review

Lasers hold a great deal of promise for the battlefield – they are able to strike at the speed of light giving a better chance of hitting a fast moving target on short notice on the battlefield.

The U.S. Navy has been working on a laser system that will eventually be mounted on ships to replace the rapid firing cannons that are designed to shoot down missiles and other threats at close range. A laser system to replace the rapid-fire guns has been in development by the Navy since the 1980's reports, and the laser system has hit a new milestone.

The goal of the Navy missile program is to create a laser with one megawatt of power. Last month, the research teams working on the project at the Los Alamos National Lab demonstrated that they could create lasers with the power needed for the Navy. A preliminary review of the program began last week and is being conducted by the Office of Naval Research.

Dinh Nguyen, senior project leader for the Free Electron Laser program said, "Until now, we didn't have the evidence to support our models."

The research team used a new injector design to shoot electrons through a series of magnetic fields and was able to generate the power needed for a viable weapon. The laser program is called the free-electron laser of FEL.

Office of Naval Research program manager Quentin Saulter said, "The FEL is expected to provide future U.S. Naval forces with a near-instantaneous laser ship defense in any maritime environment throughout the world."

The laser began as a 14-kilowatt prototype, and the research team then moved on to producing a 100-kilowatt laser. The test with the new injector has put the research team 9-months ahead of its 2011 testing schedule.

The U.S. Air force is also working on laser systems that will be mounted inside aircraft to destroy missiles in flight. The Air Force ended development of an airborne chemical laser early last year in favor of solid-state lasers.

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Pew pew?
By Connoisseur on 1/24/2011 11:08:59 AM , Rating: 2
Am I correct in assuming these lasers aren't mean to "punch" a hole into any incoming missiles/aircraft? Instead, they're meant to overheat the guidance systems/explosives?

If the latter's the case, i'm wondering how difficult it would be to insulate a missile from such weapons? i.e. provide some sort of thermal barrier...

RE: Pew pew?
By nafhan on 1/24/2011 11:31:38 AM , Rating: 2
It's overheating.
I remember reading about next gen Russian MIRV's being tested with a reflective coating specifically to combat the threat of future laser weapons. I'm guessing that means a reflective coating would probably be a better solution for missiles, etc. than insulation.

RE: Pew pew?
By delphinus100 on 1/24/2011 10:55:31 PM , Rating: 2
It's difficult, however, to maintain a highly-reflective surface at re-entry temperatures of an ICBM warhead...and it's that much less that you have to heat the target to do damage.

RE: Pew pew?
By michael67 on 1/26/2011 5:55:33 AM , Rating: 2
But properly not that complicated for a (cruise) missile.

And yes ICBMs are a threat, it is not of the same magnitude as it had in the 60~70s, and (cruise) missile's are mouths higher thread then ICBMs, specially for armed forces in war zones.

I just wonder if it will be effective, because no surface is 100% reflective and if just 0.1% of the energy created would be absorbed it would still be enough to change the color to be less reflective and give the laser a foothold to still destroy its target.

RE: Pew pew?
By Murloc on 1/24/2011 11:33:35 AM , Rating: 2
you could reflect the laser.
Fact is, the reflection is probably not enough and it would still absorb enough of the huge energy he's getting from the laser.
It can punch a hole if it's powerful enough anyway, it just melts the chassis.

RE: Pew pew?
By Dribble on 1/24/2011 11:43:55 AM , Rating: 1
Depends on quite how reflective the missiles shell is, and quite how well it absorbs heat too (some space shuttle style heat shielding would work well).

Whatever it will take longer to heat up if much of the heat is reflected hence a lot depends on how well the laser can stay on the target. Then the missile can counter this by dodging and rotating to stop the laser being able to heat any one spot.

RE: Pew pew?
By FaaR on 1/24/2011 8:46:30 PM , Rating: 2
Space shuttle-style insulation is extremely fragile (enough so that the styrofoam-like insulation material used on the external fuel tank becomes a serious danger to the vehicle during launch should a fragment strike the heat shield tiles. It's also very porous and thus prone to water absorbtion and so on. That means it'd blow up from the inside from steam pressure if struck by a laser...

Such a material would never stand up to the rigors military hardware need to be able to withstand. Also, various insulation tech will add weight and bulk to the weapon, reducing performance. And it might not be sufficient anyway, as a powerful enough laser will destroy the target regardless (vaporize any insulation/reflective coatings etc).

RE: Pew pew?
By Jaybus on 1/25/2011 12:29:50 PM , Rating: 2
Reflectivity is not constant, but varies as a function of wavelength, as does absorbance. A mirror that reflects 95% of 550 nm green visible light may only reflect 20% of 380 nm UV. Polished AL might be good, but no way they get more than 90% reflectivity. You have to remember that 10% of a MW is 100 kW. It would have to be a nearly perfect mirror. Highly unlikely to avoid the laser using a reflective coating.

RE: Pew pew?
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 1/24/11, Rating: 0
RE: Pew pew?
By DanNeely on 1/24/2011 12:06:48 PM , Rating: 5
Reflection isn't 100% effective. At 1MW even a single percent of the power will vaporize the reflective layer if it hits a narrow enough are for long enough.

eg At 1% effectiveness (99% light reflected), and a 5.56mm diameter footprint on the target it would deliver the same energy as an m16 bullet in 1/6th of a second.

RE: Pew pew?
By MrTeal on 1/24/2011 12:27:58 PM , Rating: 5
99% reflectivity is also very, very high. If you go out and buy a decent quality telescope, the aluminum coating on its mirror might be in the range of 90% effective. You can pay a little more for enhanced Al coatings that might give about 94% reflectivity or so. To get into 99% reflectivity, you have to go with dielectric coatings that are incredibly expensive. You can get laser mirrors that are 99.9+% reflective, but those are precision ground glass mirrors that are kept very clean and aren't subjected to undue mechanical stress, not missile casings going 700mph.

Saying put on a mirror coating isn't anywhere near enough to stop a 1MW laser. You can easily weld with less than a kilowatt.

RE: Pew pew?
By Brainonska511 on 1/24/2011 3:39:24 PM , Rating: 4
And those numbers are also for specific wavelengths of light. Reflective coatings would have be designed to reflect the wavelength of light the laser is using, and I image, that would not be widely divulged.

These coatings could also be 90% reflective at one wavelength, but completely transparent at another wavelength.

RE: Pew pew?
By DanNeely on 1/24/2011 4:08:07 PM , Rating: 2
It's not just a question of keeping it secret. IIRC Free electron lasers are relatively easy to tune, so narrowly targeted protective schemes would be useless.

RE: Pew pew?
By DanNeely on 1/24/2011 4:07:00 PM , Rating: 2
I picked an extremely high value deliberately. Even at that level anything approaching a tight, sustained beam, will deliver enough energy to wreck the coating and burn strait through the underlying layer.

RE: Pew pew?
By Samus on 1/24/2011 9:24:15 PM , Rating: 2
Debris from sub-sonic flight will damage/coat even a 99.9% reflective layer with enough moisture or residue to make the laser effective.

Good luck Russians. Decades behind us, as usual.

RE: Pew pew?
By ArcliteHawaii on 1/25/2011 1:29:34 PM , Rating: 4
The obvious solution for ICBMs isn't reflective coatings, but cheap dummy warheads, chaff, and debris. This is the same solution the Russians came up with for defeating Reagan's Star Wars initiative. Throw enough targets into the sky, and overwhelm the defensive system. Any defensive system, missile or laser, needs time to track, identify, target, and fire.

RE: Pew pew?
By Daverino on 1/24/2011 1:59:03 PM , Rating: 2
Also remember that the guidance for the missile is in the head, which is the likely spot that laser will make contact. The coating on the seeker head has to have the correct composition in order for the guidance to function optimally. Putting a mirror-finish coating on the seeker head may be possible, but they'd have to find one that didn't interfere with the guidance system.

RE: Pew pew?
By dsx724 on 1/24/2011 2:06:10 PM , Rating: 2
What about using internal reflection to redirect the beam and using liquid silver to cool the reflector?

RE: Pew pew?
By Calin on 1/25/2011 2:33:38 AM , Rating: 2
Liquid silver is extremely hot - at about 1800 Fahrenheit or close to 1000 Celsius

RE: Pew pew?
By AnnihilatorX on 1/24/2011 6:00:17 PM , Rating: 2
What about smoke screen? Smoke made of exotic material such as metallic shards, or even just water vapor?

Didn't Air Force encounter difficulty with the laser program in bad weather due to losing effectiveness in rain?

RE: Pew pew?
By chromal on 1/24/2011 11:03:22 PM , Rating: 2
Imagine if you mounted that on your ICBMs as an answer to "Starwars" laser antiballistic vehicle or warhead-targeting weapons? Then shot one over Norway the day before the 'leader of the free world' visited to receive a nobel peace prize? Sound familiar? :) Just a pet theory.

A possible explanation in physical terms, although the narrators suggests space debris, the effect could also be engineered intentionally, and there's more than enough ICBM boost capacity to handle the extra weight of the platform.

RE: Pew pew?
By JKflipflop98 on 1/25/2011 12:27:35 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not a rocket scientist, but I would think that the amount of liquid smoke agent or water vapor it would take to suck up 1MW of sustained power would be a major concern on a rocket.

RE: Pew pew?
By chromal on 1/25/2011 1:56:50 AM , Rating: 2
I certainly couldn't say; I suppose it would depend on the weather conditions over the laser defensive positions at the time of the attack, how long the hypothetical delivery platform's ABM countermeasures would need to last.

Lots of players can put 20k KG, or 22 tons, into low earth orbit. Sub-orbital ballistics require less energy than that, sometimes a lot less. It's plausible, but yes, everything related to weight is always a major concern in rocket design.

It's been videoed elsewhere, such as over eastern Asia. I guess the same accident keeps happening, or maybe someone's doing it intentionally. A countermeasure system aiming for protection against directed energy weapons and/or radar targeting is a fascinating idea. Depending on the system's physical shielding, a bit of protection might go a long way.

It's not hard to believe the major powers of the world intend to aim for some sort of strategic military parity, though official alarmism probably wouldn't be constructive...

By cjohnson2136 on 1/24/2011 12:48:48 PM , Rating: 1
I don't know to much about lasers but say they fire this laser in short bursts. Would it look like the lasers fired from say a Star Wars or Star Trek ship?

RE: Question
By bupkus on 1/24/2011 1:24:01 PM , Rating: 1
Yep, and the resulting damage would kinda resemble the mess like from that episode where Curly accidentally hits Moe in the face with a pie?

RE: Question
By roykahn on 1/26/2011 2:01:59 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, and the laser can only be fired by personnel who've achieved wiseguy rank.

RE: Question
By GreenEnvt on 1/24/2011 2:13:52 PM , Rating: 2
Scifi shows almost always have the beams visibly traveling through space towards their targets. in real life, they would be instantly hitting the target as soon as they fire.
Also laser beams, like light (being light themselves) aren't generally visible unless they hit something. air is too sparse for most lasers to be visible hitting. You could see it hitting a cloud or the target, but not in mid air.

RE: Question
By 3DoubleD on 1/24/2011 2:27:46 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, high powered visible lasers are very visible when travelling through the air (for an example search astronomy lasers). The scattering from this 1 MW laser might even be dangerously bright for bystanders without proper eye (and possibly skin protection).

RE: Question
By SlyNine on 1/25/2011 12:40:15 AM , Rating: 3

This is a pretty powerful laser, yet no scattering effect, just the burning ordinance and the explosion. You can only see the laser when the camera can see the right electromagnetic spectrum.

So my guess is that these " scattering theories" are just that and nothing more.

RE: Question
By Jaybus on 1/25/2011 12:55:13 PM , Rating: 2
Here is a demo of the Advanced Tactical Laser hitting a small square target on the hood of a truck with enough energy to cut through the truck's sheet metal, yet you can't see any scattering at all...just burning metal where it hits.

RE: Question
By 3DoubleD on 1/25/2011 1:48:51 PM , Rating: 3
The links provided by both Jaybus and SlyNine both refer to infrared lasers. So obviously you can't see any scattering with your eyes, but it does not mean it is not there. If you were standing next to that truck in the video, you would most certainly be blinded and/or burned. The most dangerous types of lasers are those outside the spectrum visible to humans as there is no blink (or duck) reflex to protect yourself.

I do not know what type of laser is used in this navy program, but regardless of whether it is visible or not, scattering is still very dangerous. That's not so say that this isn't an extremely useful tool, what it seeks to do is amazing, but that it requires additional consideration compared to more conventional projectile weapons.

I am working on my PhD in Engineering Physics and as a result I work in many laboratories with lasers. Laser safety often seems unintuitive at first, but even seemingly low powered lasers (e.g. 1 W) can cause vision loss if safety procedures are not followed. The most dangerous class of lasers (Class 4) include lasers above 0.5 W - this naval laser is 2 million times more powerful! In a laboratory or industrial setting, the only safe way to operate such high powered lasers is to exclude humans from the operating environment (effectively making it a Class 1 laser). In battle, when firing this weapon into open air, the safety of personnel would be difficult to guarantee.

Don't let sci-fi or James Bond movies mislead you. Handling high powered lasers is nothing like they depict.

RE: Question
By jive on 1/26/2011 8:24:48 AM , Rating: 2
With high power lasers the air and any moisture or particles in it turn into plasma and emits light according to their own spectrum. This would produce visible glow for continuous laser burn, but most lasers are pulsating ones releasing the energy in bursts and hence not giving visible trace.

By Astral Abyss on 1/24/2011 6:17:19 PM , Rating: 2
I have to think there would be a lot of prestige involved if we are the first country able to reliably field laser weapons on our Navy fleet. They have this air of futuristic power about them, like Star Wars or the Terminator. Call me crazy, but I think our military is interested in this for more than just advancement. Guns aren't scary anymore, we're all acclimated to them... but lasers can disintigrate you! Well, you get the idea.

RE: Prestige
By DNAgent on 1/24/2011 7:36:51 PM , Rating: 2
Guns aren't scary anymore

Are you sure about that?

RE: Prestige
By FaaR on 1/24/2011 9:05:01 PM , Rating: 2
Guns not scary? If you'd ever been on the receiving end of a 30mm+ gatling autocannon I think you'd reconsider your stance. ;)

RE: Prestige
By JKflipflop98 on 1/25/2011 12:31:36 AM , Rating: 2
They're scary, but almost everyone has seen a gun go off.

No one has seen people get disintegrated by a friggin' laser yet. That's gotta have a "wow" factor.

By RugMuch on 1/24/2011 2:51:30 PM , Rating: 1
You better slow down there you'll work yourself out of a job.

RE: Contractors!
By Scabies on 1/24/2011 5:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
you must be working on JSF

RE: Contractors!
By ARoyalF on 1/24/2011 9:49:17 PM , Rating: 2

The contract for integrating a 1MW laser on to a sea bass will be huge. Maybe even 1 biiillllion dollars.....

RE: Contractors!
By FaaR on 1/24/2011 9:02:06 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't worry; they've been able to milk this one particular cow since the 80s, so they'll be able to continue for a few more decades yet, no doubt.

Prismatic coating
By Ammohunt on 1/24/2011 2:08:59 PM , Rating: 2
It might be possible to create a coating consisting of thosuands of tiny concave prisms that either bends the light around the missle body or diffuses it into other spectrums. All you would need is optically clear crystal or glass.

RE: Prismatic coating
By DanNeely on 1/24/2011 9:52:53 PM , Rating: 2
This would fail for the same reason that the mirror finish would fail. You can't make 100% transparent glass.

RE: Prismatic coating
By Ammohunt on 1/27/2011 4:56:34 PM , Rating: 2
Right but you could spread the heat around a bit.

Always have to laugh...
By Shadowself on 1/24/2011 2:44:56 PM , Rating: 2
at statements like this:

The goal of the Navy missile program is to create a laser with one megawatt of power.

The U.S. Navy had a working prototype that was approximately 100 MW peak power back in 1981. I know. I worked on it. Unfortunately it was never fielded. It was solid state, not chemical. Unfortunately it was only about 1+ joules per pulse.

What is necessary is 1,000s of joules per pulse. So you really need 10s of megawatts over a significant fraction of a second in order to bring something down. A 100 MW, 10 nsec pulse, like the aforementioned system, won't do it.

A FEL could do this. A couple nice things about FELs is that you can vary the pulse duration as well as vary the frequency of the LASER itself. Both are nice parameters for play when devising a weapon.

RE: Always have to laugh...
By Jaybus on 1/25/2011 1:20:05 PM , Rating: 2
They mean 1 MW average power, not peak power. The FEL is a CW (or quasi-CW) laser. The 1981 laser you mention is a high peak power pulsed laser. 10^8 W * 10^-8 s = 1 J for the 1981 pulsed laser. 10^6 * 1 s = 10^6 J for the FEL. The FEL is not thousands of times more powerful. It's a million times more powerful than the 1981 laser.

By Basilisk on 1/24/2011 8:17:34 PM , Rating: 2
The retroflector wouldn't survive for long... but how well would the weapon tolerate having 50% of its incident radiation returned to it?

By FaaR on 1/24/2011 9:10:28 PM , Rating: 2
How do you figure out the weapon's direction so that you can aim your reflector back at it, AND somehow fit said reflector to a MIRV or a missile in such a way that it + articulation mechanism remains functional throughout the weapon's flight trajectory...?

How much?
By melgross on 1/24/2011 12:10:35 PM , Rating: 2
Reflective coatings don't work as well as one might think. They rapidly get dirty enough in flight for the surface to absorb enough laser power to get damaged. Even the best mirror could be not better than 99% reflective before being fired. If hit by a one MW beam, ten KW would be well over what's needed to melt the surface.

By lowsidex2 on 1/25/2011 10:14:12 AM , Rating: 2
All we need now is that tracking mirror Kent built and Dr. Hathaway can pick off people from space. Or make a really big bag of popcorn?

By roastmules on 1/25/2011 12:44:45 PM , Rating: 2
One of the goals of the laser is to shoot down incoming targets (missiles, bombs, planes) at a further distance than the current Phalanx. A navy ship with this laser will not rely on it 100%, they'll have additional systems, such as the missile system SeaRAM, and/or Phalanx.

The laser shoots, and nearly instantly will either destroy the incoming target or not, and it will be known on the radar. If it's not destroyed, then the secondary system will take it out mechanically rather than optically.

By Iketh on 1/25/2011 11:19:16 PM , Rating: 2
Will a 1MW laser super-heat the air around it and create thunder like lightning?

Seems pretty easy to defeat...
By jfelano on 1/24/11, Rating: -1
RE: Seems pretty easy to defeat...
By acer905 on 1/24/2011 12:59:04 PM , Rating: 2
Try shining a handheld laser pointer at a mirror. Sure, you will see it on the wall it reflects on, but there will also be a faint dot on the mirror. Nothing is perfect, and with 1 MW of energy, you would need perfect to be safe.

RE: Seems pretty easy to defeat...
By cjohnson2136 on 1/24/2011 1:17:51 PM , Rating: 2
Plus you would have to keep the mirrors perfectly clean to have it be more effective and a missle flying through air at a few hundred miles per hour will not stay clean.

RE: Seems pretty easy to defeat...
By 3DoubleD on 1/24/2011 1:59:10 PM , Rating: 2
That is correct. Even on a perfectly reflective surface (if such a thing existed), a particle of dust or dirt would super heat and destroy the reflective layer.

This has implication not only for defense, but also for the battleship. The lens on the laser would also have to be 100% dust free or risk catastrophic failure. This is an difficult task to achieve on an optical bench in a cleanroom. This would be enormously difficult to achieve in the real, dirty world.

Other considerations may include the safety of the battleship crew or nearby bystanders. At 1 MW, simple scattering from the atmosphere could be dangerous to unprotected crew members. Weather (rain, snow, fog) or battle conditions (smoke, dust, exhaust, air borne debris) may also significantly hamper the operation of this laser, even to the point where the laser may accidentally inflict damage to the battleship itself.

A 1 MW laser puts extraordinary amount of power in a very slowly diverging beam. At all times the battleship crew would need to be conscious of any reflections or scattering. This would be an extremely difficult weapon to wield.

RE: Seems pretty easy to defeat...
By FaaR on 1/24/2011 8:59:13 PM , Rating: 2
It's not just their eyes (which can be protected by using goggles); I'm thinking the crew might get some involuntary deep-skin suntanning from backscatter when shooting off such high-powered lasers.

I'm not a doctor or a physicist so I don't know the risk of this actually happening, but it wouldn't do at all if there's any chance at all of putting the ship's own crew in the infirmary when firing this weapon. I suppose rad-suits are the order of the day, in addition to eye-goggles... :D

RE: Seems pretty easy to defeat...
By SlyNine on 1/25/2011 12:44:03 AM , Rating: 2
I'll take my own guess.

I'd imagine that only in very unique atmospheric conditions would this be a problem. We've seen kilowatt plus lasers fired and no scattering was even noticed, for the scattering effect to actually be deadly I'm guessing were not even close.

Honestly this sounds about like the myth that going 60MPH plus will kill you.

By YashBudini on 1/27/2011 7:55:56 PM , Rating: 1
I don't see how this would work. All you would have to do is put a mirror finish on missiles and the laser would reflect off of it right?

It worked well enough on Jonny Quest.


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