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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 Military.com, 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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx8i5EfmYU4


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...


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