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Air defense laser is a reality

According to a Janes newsletter:

US Navy successfully tests laser with close-in weapon. The US Navy has for the first time in a maritime environment successfully destroyed four unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) targets with a laser, essentially proving the basic premise of adding a directed-energy weapon to Raytheon’s Phalanx close-in weapon system. The trial was sponsored by the US Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA’s) PMS 405 Directed Energy Weapons programme office and used the navy’s own Laser Weapon System (LaWS) equipment, developed in conjunction with the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare .Center Dahlgren Division, combined with a Phalanx weapon mount.

The era of the ray cannon has arrived.

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14 comments to Air defense laser is a reality

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Maybe not quite yet, though. In the video I saw, it appeared the target had to be illuminated for several seconds, which is an awfully long time in a combat situation. Also, I still want to know what happens when Mr. high-energy laser meets Mr. corner-cube reflector.

  • Bogdan from Australia

    However, the laser beam is effective enough to blind and direct elsewhere both the super-sonic Silkworm and balistic (being developed now) Chinese anti-ship missiles.
    Those are hundreds of small torpedo boats that could be sent by Iran to overwhelm the US carrier fleet that are posing the real threat.
    Simple steel netting spread over the vast area could deal with that threat easily though.
    Simple solutions are sometimes the best solutions, especially when dealing with a primitive enemy who is willing to apply the “human waves” tactics.

  • Paul

    This is a nasty development that has certainly been coming. The U.S. will not hold a monopoly on this technology forever, so you need to think of this in terms of what would an enemy do with this weapon system?

    Lasers will blind and burn, strike from seemingly nowhere, and probably radically change naval and air strategy. There is a potential here for U.S. rivals to use lasers to completely overturn U.S. tactics, fleet composition, or even the use of navies and air forces altogether.

    Laser weapons could upset the balance of power around the world. Hard to say what may happen.

  • I suspect the energy cost is high, which would tie in with the funding for ship-borne fusion power solutions (e.g. Bussardian IEC).

    The laser is only a small issue the US needs to worry about from China. They may knock out all the GPS satellites if anything big kicks off, rendering so many US systems impotent. I believe they are one of the few countries to have tested a surface to orbit missile.

  • AKM

    I agree with PersonFromPorlock, the dwell time was about 5-6 seconds, IMO this is too long to deal with multiple anti-ship missiles coming over the horizon at the same time. The fast Russian ASMs will do doing about 1000 meters/second just a few meters above the sea, and you’ll only have 15-25 seconds after achieving line of sight. Even that assumes these lasers can engage at 15-25km through salt spray and fog you might encounter at sea. IMO they need to get the dwell time down to under 2 or 3 seconds to compete with point defence missiles and guns.

  • tomwright

    “The laser is only a small issue the US needs to worry about from China. They may knock out all the GPS satellites if anything big kicks off, rendering so many US systems impotent. I believe they are one of the few countries to have tested a surface to orbit missile.

    Posted by Tim Carpenter (Libertarian Party) at August 1, 2010 12:55 PM”

    Which is why I am amazed that so many people support power generating satellites in orbit, beaming energy down to the surface.

    One ticked off ‘great leader’ with the ability to launch a scud with a warhead full of scrap metal at it, and your downstream users go dark.

  • The dwell time issue against a supersonic target is a problem, but is not insoluble, silicon can think faster than aluminum can move. AKM may be right that they need to get the time factor down to 3 seconds or so. However this was a relatively low powered test system so one has to imagine that any operational weapon will meet his criteria.

    tomwright – ANY powerplant, on Earth or otherwise, is a nice fat target. A Space Based Power Satellite will be huge and will be designed to keep functioning after its been hit with debris. The best answer is to develop and deploy active space defense systems, but that gets out leftie friends knickers in a twist and we can’t have that.

  • FatCaveman

    There is a potential here for U.S. rivals to use lasers to completely overturn U.S. tactics, fleet composition, or even the use of navies and air forces altogether.

    In a sense the Chinese and Russians had already done this with their cheap supersonic and ballistic missiles. No-one has been prepared to put it to the test but even the most modern anti-missile systems can only track a fixed number of targets and anti-missile missiles need considerable time to reload their launchers/magazines. For the cost of a few hundred million a hostile force could practically guarantee taking out most of a US carrier fleet valued in the tens of billions.

    That no-one has sunk a US carrier is really a matter of no-one with the potential and desire to do so having the nerve to escalate things with the US to this extent. The loss of a carrier group would provoke a devastating response and everyone knows it.

    An effective missile defense system using lasers actually brings the playing field back to where it was before the field was tipped so heavily in favour of any attackers.

    There was a commander of US submarine forces who said “There are two types of naval vessels; submarines and targets”. This development may have once again made carriers useful for something other than beating up third world countries that can’t fight back.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    The loss of a carrier group would provoke a devastating response and everyone knows it.

    Posted by FatCaveman at August 1, 2010 07:31 PM

    Maybe. A sufficiently devastating loss might give the US pause, though.

    My feeling vis-a-vis China is that they already have us by the economic short-and-curlies and any US response to Chinese aggression in Asia is likely to be perfunctory.

    And while I don’t doubt that lasers will eventually be able to vaporize targets quickly, I do wonder if they’ll ever be useful in every circumstance; if not, then problems ensue. A laser that worked fine except under some one condition (for instance, in a driving rainstorm) would have to be backed up with a ‘ballistic’ defense system so comprehensive that the laser system itself might be superfluous. Yes, photons are cheaper than bullets, but the attacking missiles are expensive enough that there won’t be all that many to shoot bullets at.

  • Laird

    “And while I don’t doubt that lasers will eventually be able to vaporize targets quickly, I do wonder if they’ll ever be useful in every circumstance”

    No defense works every time, every place, under all circumstances. I for one am glad to have robust, overlapping defensive systems. Even without (unattainable) 100% effectiveness. Some defense is better than none.

  • Mike Lorrey

    In related news, the director of research at ONR recently gave a talk to top brass about the technologies of the next generation of naval vessels. He apparently spoke for a bit about polywell fusion and said that research continues to progress on it without any show stoppers. While not any sort of proof of net power yet, this is a positive sign that it may be forthcoming before November, when Nebel’s “Year and a half” is up.

  • Nuke Gray

    A way around the current time lag would be to use radar to warn you of an approaching missile, and prime a laser to fire where it will be in 6 seconds time. If you have a horde of lasers, all co-ordinated, they should be able to defend bases from attack, covering each others’ repriming gap.

  • a.sommer

    Maybe. A sufficiently devastating loss might give the US pause, though.

    The government of Japan used to think that. It didn’t work out the way they expected.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    The government of Japan used to think that. It didn’t work out the way they expected.

    Posted by a.sommer at August 2, 2010 07:36 AM

    True, but the America of today isn’t the America of seventy years ago in either spiritual or industrial resources. FWIW, I’m sure our leaders would manage a pretty comprehensive indignation before deciding that further operations should be put on hold ‘pending a reassessment of the strategic situation’.