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back to article Boeing chuffed with latest raygun-jumbo ground tests

US aerospace colossus Boeing has informed the world that everything continues to be fine with its plan to build an enormous nuclear-missile-blasting laser cannon inside a jumbo jet. According to the company, the business part of the ray weapon has now begun ground checks using its deadly, poisonous, corrosive chemical fuel - …

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Joke

So

So it works when plugged into Boulder Dam for it's main power supply does it , that extension cord must run for miles ?

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laser nowhere near ready

it wont be finished until they add a cool sound effect, and can be fired repeatedly using an old thrustmaster II

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Rob
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Black Helicopters

Terrorists wet dream

So not only can they be happy with just blowing up an aircraft they now have a target that will rain corrossive chemicals down on people as well, let's hope it has a no fly ban over populated areas in case of mishaps.

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Black Helicopters

Haha. Can anyone imagine the scenario...

...terrorists defeat ABL by coating missiles with optically reflective paint?

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Boffin

Now that's what I call...

...PEW PEW PEW...

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Terrorists?

Who said anything about terrorists? They don't have ICBMs.

This thing is clearly meant to deter good-ol'-cold-war Putin and our best friends the Iranians (not that they have ICBMs either. They're more like MRBMs).

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Lazuuuuuur

So the Alan Parsons Project reaches another milestone, then.

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Alert

Backup system test succesful

So if the laser fails just shoot air cylinder torpedoes at them?

Note to Boeing; dont forget the torpedo tube doors on this one! duh.

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@ George Jenkins

Reflective paint? If they use a corner-cube reflector the beam will turn round and go back to its source.

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Alan Parsons...

Does this mean the jet plays Sirius through some very large speakers as a background to the countdown? Well worth the money then.

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Boffin

All hail

our mighty laser touting, airbourne overlords

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@George Jenkins

This is an old, tired attack that was used against the old "Star Wars" of the Reagan era.

This is a shock weapon. The aim is to put so much energy into a missile that even a small percentage getting through will damage the missile enough to stop it functioning correctly. Fire a few megawatts of laser power at your dressing table mirror and see what happens. A good mirror reflects 90% of the light. Do the maths, and you'll see you'd be pumping a few hundred Kw into the mirrored missile in a few milliseconds.

I predict the next bit of rubbish will be "rotate the missiles so the laser can't burn through them". As someone once said, that'd be like getting someone to pirouette in front of a shotgun.

O

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@ Onionman

"Fire a few megawatts of laser power at your dressing table mirror and see what happens."

If I had one, I'd try it, but being a real man I don't own a dressing table.

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Coat

cr*p cutaway...

..my bumper-book of Eagle cutaways is much better, especially my Short Belfast one. Who needs cr*ppy Yankonian 747s with evil kill-tech, a Belfast with a couple of Daleks in does the job much better!

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Boffin

@Onionman

Yeah - you'll still destroy the missile, but a decent mirror is more like 98-99% reflective (not sure how well it would cope with launch though) and corner cubing that could cause interesting problems for the jumbo - not much %age power gets back, but possibly enough to cause serious issues...

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Coat

corrosive fuel?

Let me guess, they sold the old test bed airframes to QANTAS?

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Anonymous Coward

This whole project is so ridiculously stupid

that I can't help but to applaud the entire enterprise. Still won't work, mind you.

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Boffin

@George Jenkins

The idea is not to actually hit the missile with the beam itself but to focus the beam on an area the missile is about to pass through and turn the air into plasma.

This would seriously damage any section of the ICBM that passed through that region and could cause the fuel to explode with a good hit, thus disabling the missile.

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Pirate

What's not to like ....

50 years ago, computers filled an entire buiding. Now you can get something several times more powerful that fits in the palm of your hand.

So about the middle of this century, can we expect to see hand-held laser guns? Set phasers to stun, folks!

It'd be a real drag if they still have all those explosive, corrosive, toxic acid properties, though .... kinda like the film "Aliens" .....

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Targeting problems

What we don't know is how close the 747 has to be to the missile to lock on to it and fire. ICBMs travel at least 10x the speed of a 747 so the 747s have to be in place within range very quickly if this is to work.

If the range is 1000 miles (which is optimistic considering the accuracy required) then they'd need to have the 747s stationed at 6 US airbases for full protection from east and west bound incoming missiles.

And, keep in mind that ICBMs will provide a smaller target than most people would think because they're fired up towards space and then come down at an angle, so the 747 wouldn't be able to get a nice broadside view to fire at.

I can't see this working in a real world situation, but would the US have invested so much money if it was going to be ineffective? Well, Iraq or Afghanistan hasn't gone to plan and look at how many billions it's cost so far. I suppose the project could just be for international posturing.

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Paris Hilton

corrosive?

Awwww c'mon we're all big boys here. You can tell us what it is. Alien sperm perhaps?

// Paris as she's not flustered by big boys

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@ G. Jenkins

Anyone who uses 'optically reflective paint' to try to defeat a laser of that power level had best:

1 ensure that the surfaces to which the paint is applied are optically flat

2 ensure that the paint reflects 99.999%, at least, of the inbound beam energy

3 ensure that no scratches, smudges, or other imperfections (fingerprints, bird droppings, drops of water, spots where water drops dried, anything at all) mar the surface

4 note that (3) above includes soot and other marks from rocket, jet, or even internal combustion engine exhaust, a fact which will make it rather difficult to launch the object

Lasers of that power level do not cut through targets. If they get a hit, be it a hit with a, ahem, 'dwell time' measured in microseconds, they pump sufficient energy into the target to cause the part hit to sublimate. The vapourised material is further heated by additional beam energy, producing an effect known technically as 'an explosion'. Just a small one, but what typically happens to mirrors when part of them explodes? A second hit, anywhere near the first, is no longer dealing with any kind of mirrored surface, and causes a second explosion... just a bigger one.

Mirroring won't help you... indeed, it makes it worse, as slab-sided, optically flat and highly reflective devices Really Stand Out(tm) on a radar (or, better yet, lidar) screen, making them easily detected. A one or two millisecond pulse of the main laser then nails the target.

Spinning won't help you, either. (Especially not if you're spinning a slab-sided, optically flat, highly reflective, device. That would Stand Out Really, Really, REALLY Well(tm) and might require increasing the pulse to perhaps three milliseconds.

The best, and indeed the only practical, defence against very high energy lasers is to present it with lots and lots and lots of targets. Feed it enough targets, over a wide enough volume so that it takes time to acquire new targets, and some will get through. Even if the targeting system can acquire multiple targets in a short time, if you feed it enough targets the system will run out of laser juice (you know, the chemicals required to produce the high energy laser).

Your mission: determine the minimum number of targets required to run the laser platform out of power. The last estimate I saw was several dozen, though they might be up to 100 by this time. You should then estimate the number of laser platforms you will be facing, and how long you have until the other side's missiles, presumably not interdicted by your lasers 'cause you don't have any, nuke your launch sites into glowing rubble.

You should also note that it is already _known_ that the laser system works on the ground... and that perhaps there might be a few ground-based system to defeat as well. The ground-based systems would have to kill re-entry vehicles, not boosters, which would make things _much_ more difficult, but they'll have ground-based radars and lidars (more powerful and more numerous) and ground-based computers (more powerful and more numerous) and ground-based power supplies (you're not going to run _those_ units out of laser juice, not gonna happen...) and can themselves be lager, more powerful... and more numerous. At the same time, just the smallest, most tiny, hit on an inbound RV and instead of a nuke you have tumbling wreckage, most of which will burn up before hitting the ground. There will still be effects from the (now burned up) fissile material, but nowhere near the effects from a nuke exploding. You know, what will be happening to _you_. A single OHIO class ballistic missile sub has around 200 warheads embarked. How many of those does the US have? You think that maybe the USN would do their very best to make the rubble bounce a few times?

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Is this ever going to be realistic ?

They are going to need as many as 10 to be airborne to cover the whole 360 degree space around the US. 10 airborne, all the time.

They are going to need four times that many at least in total to maintain the 10 in the air, due to maintainance demands etc etc.

Then they will need the specialist ground equipment at a number of US bases to support them.

I wonder what the total cost will be in the end ?

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Anonymous Coward

Hang on

Forgive my ignorance on this matter, but wouldn't the radioactive material from the exploding nuclear ICBM (by that I don't mean the warhead detonating as intended) be concern for people?

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Copyright Issue

Surely the Emperor Ming should be consulting with his lawyers about this gross infringement.

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@John Robson

It doesn't matter how good a mirror is, it will vapourise instantly when hit with that amount of power (unless it's actually perfect of course, but such a thing doesn't exist). Only a tiny fraction of the pulse would be reflected, and even that would be unfocussed and would be unlikely to even be noticed by the aircraft.

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ian
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@Gary F - even more targeting problems

An incoming warhead is hard enough to target, but it might be surrounded by decoys, further complicating the problem.

I think ABL is intended to attack ICBMs during the boost phase, when all of the warheads can be caught at once. However, this requires that the 747 be within a few hundred kilometres of the missile- likely making the 747 an inviting target itself.

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Ru
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Again with the 'invulnerable mirrorred target' ideas

It is difficult enough in ideal circumstances to bend and reflect a powerful laser beam... and all the hard work in teh boeing is being done *before* the beam is focussed to actual killing intensities. Mirrors in the way are going to burn up. Worse case scenario is that you get sparkley transient reflections from the target (as it burns up) which will send a small proportion of the power, poorly focussed, back through the atmosphere to the laser source. Which won't notice, though the pilots might if they're not wearing protective goggles.

Maybe if you could mount some kind of adaptive optics on the missile, made from super-heat resistant mirror facets that could collect all the laser energy and then focus it back at the origin you might have a chance. Unlikely though, and such a thing would be fragile, expensive, and single use. And it would ruin the missile's aerodynamics. And you'd need a bigger missile to carry it.

Etc etc.

Mirrors are not going to save you from the death rays.

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Stop

Translated:

We have a very expensive and potentially dangerous solution to a non-existent problem.

I can see how that would be a good thing. Oh, wait ;)

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Airborne alerts

"They are going to need as many as 10 to be airborne to cover the whole 360 degree space around the US. 10 airborne, all the time."

What, like this?

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,894429,00.html

That's 12 B-52s cruising at once, 24/7, so 10 jumbos should be no problem.

I guess the potential big advantage in this is that it provides a mobile version of the defence shield that the US is trying to set up around Europe. If any country threatens launch, these can be moved to a convenient nearby airbase to provide a deterent.

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Anonymous Coward

@Andy Bell

I doubt that having 40 aircraft in service is really a major problem for the US Air Force. The USAF currently have somewhere in the region of 5,800 active aircraft. 2,400 of those are fighters.

I doubt that support for 40 aircraft is going to tax their logistics much, even if they cost a bit more than a normal aircraft.

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Flame

re hang on and translated

Yes, the burned up nuke material would still be dangerous. There might be a few (or even a few hundred) extra cases of various cancers (mostly lung cancer) as a result of the burned fissile material being ingested or even touched, and as it'll be small particles spread over a wide area, it'll be difficult to avoid. This is, however, far better than what would happen if the nuke went off. The ideal solution would be to shoot 'em down over the enemy's territory. That is, in fact, the mission of the current system. The problem with that is that this requires that the (very large, not particularly fast) 747 get in laser range of the launch sites. For someplace small, like North Korea or Pakistan or Iran, that's doable, though difficult; the laser planes would require a significant escort and/or enough laser juice to shoot down a few aircraft on their way to the target area. For someplace large (India, Russia, China) this is not on. The Indians, Russians, and Chinese have too many fighters, and too much space to put stuff in. The concept is also not particularly effective against submarine launched systems.

This means that any real defence would _require_ at least two layers: the anti-booster systems, and a point-defence system sitting at home. (Three, the first two plus something which can kill inbounds in orbit, would be better. But much more expensive.) The problem with point-defence is that RVs coming in at 7 km/s plus are hard targets. If you're talking anti-booster operations, and have a limited number of possible enemies (North Korea, Iran, Cuba...) then you might be able to get away with a dozen or two aircraft. If you're talking standing up to Russia or even China in any real sense, the number goes up by an order of magnitude or more. That's 100-200 aircraft, and even that won't stop all the nukes, you'll need point defence as well... and still face the very real possibility of several nukes getting through. There is no such thing as a leak-proof defence.

There is a difference, however, between having a country that's been hurt badly by a massive nuclear strike and one which has been obliterated.

I find it interesting that there are some who say that because the defence cannot be made perfect, it should not even be tried. Better some defence than no defence.

And if the problem is 'non-existent', why is dear old Vald so annoyed at the very thought? Meanwhile, the PRC doesn't seem to care. After all, why would they nuke their own property?

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@even more targeting problems

>However, this requires that the 747 be within a few hundred kilometres of the

>missile- likely making the 747 an inviting target itself.

The idea was that the escort of conventional fighter bombers would knock out any enemy surface to air missile sites and interceptor bases before the ICBM was launched.

Who gives them the advance notice and why the same fighters can't just knock out the rather more vunerable ICBM launch site wasn't clear.

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Joy of a toy for the good ol' fanboi (aka Company Man)

Boost phase? Don't bother - Jumbo gets shot out of the sky faster than a Led Zepp before the ICBMs are lobbed. Cruise phase? Pray to the Sun God, hup. (You do remember how to pray?). Intercept? And how fast can YOU compute a firing solution on several dozen MIRVs with independent, self-contained non-deterministic targetting. Yes, you Sir, the goofy looking one. This is not a defensive system dressed up to look like a defensive system. That's a job for the Company - always has been.

Devil's Advocate is interested only in 2 things: slew rate, and the wavelength. Shouldn't be hard to get that info. And if eggheads can't come up with some insect based surface treatment (Overlards, hup) based on the latter, then at least it would be clear how big his salvo should be.

And talking of salvos, this is Radio Luther, playing it up for all the fan boys of boys toys. An oldie but goodie from the days of the Goodies and START. Rocket in Your Pocket. If yours is just a Little Feat keep it to yourself. Hup.

Here we go.

You KNOW how to feel good.

And coming up. Resurrection Shuffle. Don't go away just yet.

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Gold badge
Happy

Terrorists redux.

Maybe no good *against* terrorists but gangbusters *for* terrorists.

First bunch of jihadi loons to steal a 747 heavily laden with highly corrosive and extremely toxic chemicals and drop it on a major city wins the grand prize.

Easier than building your own nuke equipped ICBM as well.

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Dead Vulture

Are they going to

have no-fly zones underneath these airborne acid-cannisters then (as per http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/19/sat_shoot_notam_airspace_warning_declared/)?

I would be VERY concerned having one of these cruising about in the air above me.

Luckily the chance of that happening where I live is miniscule (Africa has a distinct lack of ICBM's).

OTOH it would make it kinda conspicuous, wouldn't it?

Hastily constructing an acid- and flameproof umbrella - just in case.

The dead vulture as there will be lots of dead (people, birds & animals) about should one of these birds come a cropper.

Chicken Little

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Paris Hilton

Doesn't need to work

Most weapons of this sort don't need to actually be effective, except in the official propoganda- they're an exercise in willy-waving. Remember the patriot system? Come on, they want to have planes with enormous fricken laser weapons- the psychological impact (even before some ill-advised use on some poor country that happens to be sat on top of oil) is the main thing.

Paris, because, well, she understands willy-waving.

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You'll not get many passnegers on that!

Or is this not about putting anti-SAM lasers on planes?

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@Neil Milner-Harris

Worrying:

"The idea is not to actually hit the missile with the beam itself but to focus the beam on an area the missile is about to pass through and turn the air into plasma."

Uh, unlike in most sci-fi movies, lasers aren't short pulses. They continue. So now we have a line of plasma (which would make lasing through it more difficult, but we'll pass that by) which goes for MILES and that plasma is hot enough to contain enough energy to boil rocket fuel in a fraction of a second.

You haven't been watching "Die Another Day" recently, have you?

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Black Helicopters

air support

to defend something as slow and un-manouverable as a 747, especially if it needs time to line up a shot then there needs to be something that can a) take out or jam enemy weapon systems, whether they are ground to air missiles or fighter jets trying to ram a missile up his tailpipe... it's not going to be hard for the bad guys to find one of these, jumbo's aren't exactly the most stealthy of aircraft, and if they are annoyed enough to launch an icbm they aren't going to sit there and not attack the plane sent to stop them. anyone sending u a fighter to defend has to think of tanker support, crew rotations etc, a fighter only has limited loiter time even with external tanks.

loads of authors have used airobrne lasers in novels, the only one who thought about this is one guy who set the carrier aircraft as a b52, more range and capacity than most other planes plus they were designed to carry bombs, but with a few tweaks they can have fun little toys like air to air missiles... the US government has tons of these to spare so why not? sounds like fun to me..

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Anonymous Coward

@Neil Milner-Harris

"The idea is not to actually hit the missile with the beam itself but to focus the beam on an area the missile is about to pass through and turn the air into plasma."

If that is the idea, this thing is inviting to be hit by a big bolt for the blue like Challenger was - way before the missile gets close. It seems that someones ignorance about real plasma verges on the suicidal. Not to mention the difference between photons and electrons.

I'd say someone's been watching "Star Trek" recently.

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ian
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Not for use against serious enemies

Given that a 747 has all the stealth characteristics of Buckingham palace, it will likely be used against Scud and Scud-derivative missiles used by 2nd and 3rd rate militaries such as Syria and Iran... Just good enough to field missiles, but not to have good air defenses. A bit like Iraq in the first Gulf war, after the HARMs and F118s had degraded the air defense system.

The Russians and the Chinese would not allow a great wallowing flying elephant like the ABL-equipped 747 too far into their air space.

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Jobs Horns

Of course, the gunners must yell appropriately

I'm thinking that "Getta BEEEEEEEAM!" would be best. Or possibly "HOMEEEEEEENGUH RAYZAAAAAAA!"

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Lighting the laser beam

No. I distinctly remember you say that you would be bringing a box of matches. My job is just to aim the damn thing.

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Pirate

Doesn't matter...

if terrorists (non-state entities) fire up a couple of dud missiles (and no one would notice they're dummy warheads), then depending on the laser range, the terrorists could SAM the laser plane(s) first, THEN send up the real deal. Missiles are cheap compared to laser-planes. Awl yur lazer-playn belohng to us.

It's not technology, it's tactics. Or, if you prefer, it's not the size, it's what you can do with it.

Jolly Roger, because if they clip a laser plane just right and bring it down intact, the pirate barbarian terrorists get a free civilization advance (Laser Weaponry).

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This...

IS MY X-WIng.. hands off, I called it first..

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Flame

Now if *I* were an ICBM-wielding country...

The first thing I'd do before firing my nukes? Use my own ground-based lasers or missiles to take out those darn 747s. Sounds like they got some mightily explosive stuff going on inside them - should be a doddle to take out! :o)

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ian
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Dead Vulture

One last thought....

I've assumed that this "weapon" was directed solely against ICBMs/IRBMS, but what if it was equally effective against fighter aircraft? And if it is effective against I*BMs, would it not be as effective against SAMs?

It all hinges on slew rate and effective radiance. Poulet frits, yum.

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Alert

but would the US have invested so much money if it was going to be ineffective?

I can't believe someone actually wrote that. Why yes, all aerospace projects produce cost-effective, highly functional systems that are delivered on time and within budget.

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747's are probably just the 1st gen test platform

...because 747's are plentiful and relatively cheap. I imagine that once the technology gets refined a bit, a more stealthy delivery vehicle will be used, along with (most likely) a more compact version of the machinery.

The Patriot missiles were a joke when they were initially deployed, but my understanding is that the current generation actually works fairly well.

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