US Navy boffins say they have achieved a major milestone in their quest to build an invincible raygun battleship. The breakthrough comes in the Free Electron Laser (FEL) project, intended to produce an electrically powered, megawatt-range laser able to sweep the skies of pesky aircraft, hypersonic shipkiller missiles etc. …
Smoke and mirrors
All the incoming warhead needs to do is be highly (nearly perfectly) reflective. If 99.99% of the incoming energy bounces off, then the remaining kw-class energy can be absorbed, ablated, cooled. ...whatever - along with the probably-larger amount of heat generated by plunging through the atmosphere at Mach 10.
Invert in companies that make polishing machines.
So you'd have to make it almost completely reflective across a huge em spectrum...
Along with wavelengths
The first hit would be enough to remove the mirror and take the warhead down at the same time. It might make it even easier to target by flashing brightly and showing off the wavelength it wants to reflect most. As well as flying for miles through the atmosphere picking up dust, dirt, bugs and water.
Reflection is only skin deep
The moment the shell of the warhead begins ablating, its reflective characteristics are gone. Then it will begin cooking.
There are various sophisticated ways to protect against powerful lasers, but it seems like a fair amount of effort... all a warhead needs to be is dumb, solid and fast. Invest in companies that make railguns. Oh, that's an ONR project too.
Interesting, but is it ever going to be a practical system?
Some nice science in getting this far, but would you be able to create a practical weapon system out of it?
Questions like what amount of energy does it deliver over what area at what distance, in what atmospheric conditions.
If it is a pin point, how do you target it?
If it is an area, what atenuation do you get per Km to target?
How suseptible is it counter measures, e.g. smoke, fog, shiny surfaces, heat absorbing materials?
and finally are there cheaper and easier means of achieving the same effects(results)?
Probably still worth the reasearch, even if it never produces a viable system.
Bows and arrows against the lightning
Its not long since Lewis was singing the praises of projectile weapons and railguns.
They would seem to be outclassed already. Other than aircraft launching its a shame that there doesn't seem to be a civilian use for the tech. A communication device is excessive, unless you are phoning Jupiter.
Lasers need Line Of Sight
Whereas a railgun could sit over the horizon and hurt you?
Totally different weapons
These lasers are presumably line-of-sight only (unless they've been able to make light bend). Thus they'd only be useful for defence and 'close' (up to the horizon) combat.
The projectiles cover much greater distances. 200 miles at Mach 5. Over-the-horizon stuff. More useful in attacks.
Offense vs Defense
Lasers will be limited to LOS (line of sight), or the horizon for ships attacking ground/sea based targets, whereas railguns are projected to have hundreds of miles of effective coverage. So, if a ship's laser is 10m above the water (seems a reasonable height), then multiplying by 12.7 and taking the square root...means the horizon is about 11.27 kilometers away. For sea-skimming, supersonic missiles (assuming a standalone radar at the same height as the laser), that comes out be around 32 seconds (or less) to acquire, target, and engage the missile, or not much time at all. Since the FEL is supposed to have a continuous rate of fire, it can hold a beam on the missile, where a railgun might have to fire repeated shots (assuming you can reload/recharge in less than 32 seconds).
So think of the FEL as your goalkeeper (except not the English ones), and the railgun as your Xabi Alonso (Liverpool vs Newcastle, 2006(?)) and you'll do fine.
Over the Horizon...
A projectile has to come over the horizon at some point if it is going to land on a surface target. As soon as it does then it becomes a target. If you can deliver focused energy at speed of light then you have a chance of killing/turning it. I'd say that this sort of weapon is just what an aircraft carrier needs to protect it and just what a ground station needs as well.
But, hey, I'm no military weapons expert.
@F111F - "THE" missile???
Missiles tend to be fired in pairs, as a minimum.
So, 32 seconds to detect, acquire and destroy multiple incoming missiles - not much time to protect your multi billion dollar asset.
...the FEL programme has been underway since the 1980s...
...The raygun team hope to test a full-power prototype laser turret at sea as soon as 2018...
Forty years from idea to prototype? That's the sort of timescale BAe can only dream of, isn't it Lewis?
and don't forget:
"The fact that the team is nine months ahead of schedule provides us plenty of time to reach our goals."
Woohoo! After 20+ years, they're 9 months ahead of schedule with plenty of time left to drain our wallets. I mean reach their goals. And hey, let's push out the scheduled full-power test until Quentin Salter is securely nestled into retirement. After 30 years, what's the hurry?
Thank you for your Shark-raygun thoughts.
But try to think about other solutions.
If the shark towed a large solar array behind it, obviously charging up a storage system of some sort - maybe a really high-density battery - then it's perfectly possible.
Or, of course, there is always the 'alien-tech' approach that guarantees to provide any needed tech without question.
I'm sure that our soon-to-be space-faring alien overlords have cracked the 'laser on a shark' problem and are positively itching to telling people about it.
I bow down to our laser toting overlords come to farm our seas of sharks.
Not much use..
Not much use against torpedoes then? That was always one good way of sorting out capital ships in the past..
On a side note, the Nimitz class carrier generates 190MW from its reactors, so it's certainly possible to put plenty of juice in a large enough ship.
That's all well and good
Send two missiles.
You missed the part about "multiple kills simultaneously"
Use your head, send three missles, the fail icon for your post is correct.
Potential to make Euro fighter and F22's etc redundant?
Why bother with advanced war planes when a sea or land based laser can take them and any ordinance out from 200 miles away?
We should probably just bin eurofighter now and start saving for some laser defence. Presumably this would work against ICBM's as well so really, no need for any military spending other than on ground defence lasers eh?
RE: Potential to make Euro fighter and F22's etc redundant?
".....no need for any military spending other than on ground defence lasers eh?....." Yes, and the last time we heard similar short-sighted waffle like that was from a certain Duncan Sandys, who proclaimed that manned aircraft were obsolete in the face of guided missiles. That piece of idiocy just about killed off the UK aircraft industry.
What you fail to see is that as soon as a new weapon is announced, rival teams will start work on a counter. In the case of manned aircraft, first they simply flew higher and faster to keep out of the reach of missiles, then they switched to proactive counter-measures like "Wild Weasel" aircraft and jamming pods. Being an operator of a guided missile radar system has become a very unhealthy occupation, as shown in Viet Nam, Iraq, and the later Arab-Israeli wars.
Who knows what the boffins will think up to defeat or limit the effect of ship-borne lasers, but I suspect the key will be that the lasers still need a guidance system (radar and/or optical), which will be susceptible to jamming and spoofing just like the current guidance systems we use are. A simple approach might be a long-range stealth missile that can be fired by an aircraft (or drone!) from over the horizon, with dozens of attendant decoys. Whilst the laser is busy mopping up the decoys the stealth one can zip in for the kill.
Fighting aircraft won't be redundant...
... the following generation of fighters will just be a lot bigger and carry their own doom-beam emitters.
Air combat becomes a contest to get the first accurate shot, with speed and agility taking a role only in being able to get to the battle without crashing. A laser in the air can have better range than one on the ground.
Until anti aircraft lasers become common throughout the rest of the world though, we're still going to need the current generation of aircraft. No need to panic.
A great leveller
So with this to work against missiles and planes, ship-to-ship combat goes back to, effectively, cannons?
I for one welcome our new old-fashioned swashbuckling navies.
The problem with lasers is....
There are three pretty good ways to shield your aircraft or missile from them. The first and most effective is a mirror; the second is a material with the same colour as the laser; the third, is an invisibility cloak that works at the laser frequency.
Kinetic or explosive weapons don't suffer from this weakness and can apply said shielding, so good luck protecting your fleet.
The interesting parth here
is that this is a tunable laser, effetively negating methods two and three, and possibly limiting the effectiveness of the first (think raising or lowering the wavelength beyond the range of those reflected, x-rays will quite happily travel straight through your common-or-garden bathroom mirror for example)
US technology - it must be invincible!
Or so says Lewis Page. Again. And Again. And Again. If the UK had come up with this, he'd have ridiculed it.
Back on planet earth, I thought they were having problems just building the worlds most expensive electric fence:
Still, its only taxpayers money...
Glad to see
The Register is addressing the questions that really need asking. Where the shark could be fitting into an article about lasers.
If the laser is capable of destroying an incoming missile almost instantly, you'd have to look for other ways of defeating it.
Maybe you could exploit the limits of the target identification and acquisition stages by building stealth missiles or firing loads of missiles or dummy missiles at it at once.
Would it be possible to build missiles that have lasers on the front, so that they can be firing back at the ship's laser equipment on their way in?
Paint your missile
like one of your enemy's aircraft, and send it in to land? Might need a little bit of IFF hacking. See icon for missile design.
All we are saying...
...is give peace a chance!
The money spent trying to develop more and more technologically extreme ways of killing people gets more obscene by the day. I know that there are some civil spin-offs of military research (GPS) but I'm hard pressed to think of any peaceful use for this.
Although I suppose it does suggest that the ConDumbs were being rather prescient when they decided to equip the Navy with aircraft carriers (sorry, a carrier, single) without any aircraft.
Ah, isn't war glorious!!!
and terribly exciting... oh my... I can't wait to see this kill some people!
Ironic that its designers shown in the video all come from ethnicities that will be on the receiving end! Laugh? I nearly cried. An intended surely, to the tune of some good traditional american death metal.
Keep bringing on the war porn el Reg!
"We need our best minds on this!"
"Get India on the phone!"
weaponmongers are like bankers
This is so unlikely that it is confirms war won't be getting worse for civilians any time soon.
Like banking, weapons research absorbs a large amount of a developed economy's real money and talent. The trick is to keep both groups from messing around with the real world.
Or fire your missile on a foggy day.
You missed the "tunable" part that would allow it to pass through clouds, rain, etc. UV has no trouble getting through clouds/fog. Since spysats can see through clouds, I doubt the targeting system will have any trouble either.
tune out the fog?
I didn't know that. Ignore my other post then...
Unless the frequency necessary to get through rain/fog is limited, in which case using some sort shielding impervious to just those frequencies would make attacks in rain/fog at least more likely to succeed?
EM pulse proof?
And the submarines renders them all useless. Methinks that just as in land warfare, air superiority is all important, then in naval warfare, undersea superiority is vital. Scrap the lot! as Jackie would have written.
"As we've noted on these pages before, what with the cumbersome laser machinery and large power source, one would really be looking more at a kind of raygun semi-submersible U-boat or barge with a more or less superfluous shark attached."
Sharks with friggin' u-boats on their head?
So that would be putting..
Das Boot on the other fin then?
Oh the possibilities.
1) Rayguns deadly as they might be are limited to line-of-sight
2) Lasers don't work well underwater, so torpedoes might be the laser battleship's enemy
As an adjunct to no.1. I read one historians view that aircraft carriers displaced battleships as the primary naval weapon not because their weapons were more powerful or that they were better protected but because of the range at which they could deliver an attack.
I, for one, welcome our <regurgitate article adjectives here> overlords.
Oh - except they're a bunch of right-wing, armageddon seeking, religious nutcase yahoos*...
...the ones who get to use the weaponised version, anyway.
[prays for a lethal new swine-flu variant activated by low neural density]
* I highly recommend 'The Authoritarians' - free at http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/
"Powerful megawatt beams could potentially blast fast-moving targets out of the sky almost instantly, largely negating the threat of supersonic (or in future hypersonic) missiles skimming the sea to knock out ships. Mere aircraft would have no chance. The only things which might be able to penetrate a major warship's laser defences would be heavy armour piercing cannon shells, mostly or entirely made of solid metal - or perhaps one day hypersonic railgun projectiles, again much more difficult for a laser to destroy than a thin-walled missile or aircraft packed with explosive fuels and warhead."
You forgot torpedoes
If we're talking ridiculous miracle hyper-tech, the simple solution is.......
..............FLYING LASER BATTLESHIP!!!!!!
How about a B-52 (or bigger - a freakin' laser Airship!) with a nuclear plant and a laser? Also helps with LOS issues too.
Let your mere submarine torpedoes catch that!!!
It's still a target as far as I'm concerned.
So a bunch of boffins are talking up a potential break through, ahead of schedule, coincindentally just at the same time as the Pentagon is thinking about which budgets to cut? I wonder which projects the Pentagon might think of cutting first? Oh I know, what about those projects which started in the early 80s and have yet to deliver a viable product?
Don't bee too disappointed if no FEL laser makes an appearance in 2018!
Isn't there substance that reflects
Directly back? Note that mirrors don't reflect light as such, they scatter it. If they reflected light all you would be able to see in a mirror would be your own retinas.
Anyway, if you coat a missile in this and shoot it at the ship it will reflect the beam back and destroy the laser gun itself. Ideally in a big Death Star blowing up type explosion. Even if it was a boring fizzle you just need to shoot another missile and it's game over, man!
Quick look up on google returns retroreflector, like a cat's eye apparently. So there you are, shoot kittehs at the raygun destroyer if you want to defeat it.
Reflection doesn't work that way.
Mirrors do indeed reflect light, and they do so for ALL angles of incidence. That's why you can see a reflection--the light reflected on you carries essentially the same characteristics (albeit altered in one direction) as if you were looking directly at someone else. The light rays just bounce off the mirror (at whatever angle it takes) before they get to your eye.
Epic FAIL or Warning: Troll?
By definition: Mirror -> a surface that reflects light.
A matte surface scatters light, and does not form an image of an object placed in front of it.
Using Google to look up a page on Wikipedia to then (mis)quote on the Reg? I'm guessing troll.
Retroreflection won't save you
Similarly, mounting a nice parabolic mirror on your plane won't save you either. The problem is one of energy densities, and focus. The laser will be bounced off a big mirror at the weapon end (low energy density), and focussed down to a dot on the target to fry it. The energy densities at that dot will simply incinerate any mirror or prism you put in the way.
And that is if you somehow managed to reflect the whole beam and perfectly aim and focus it on its target, a tricky job for something that needs to be small, fast and aerodynamic and carry a warhead to its target.
Missiles are not an appropriate weapon to use against a laser-armed battleship, any more than the huge cannon of WW2 battleships were appropriate weapons to use against aircraft carriers.
I'm not optimistic, but....
...it would be nice if, for a while at least, defensive weapons outpaced offensive weapons and made war unproductive.
Offensive weapons that couldn't be defended (i.e. nuclear bombs on ICBMs) spectacularly failed to deter war: it seems that people will have wars as long as they can have wars. Maybe if battles are reduced to two sides standing off at 200 miles shooting down whatever expensive ordinance the other side puts up, we will have reached a level of futility that even the military mind can grasp?
Of course, there are two major reasons to be pessimistic. One, historically speaking every defensive advance has been obsoleted by an offensive response. Plate armor was obsoleted by rifles; stone fortresses by cannons and mortars; the Maginot line by tanks and mechanized infantry.
And two, there seems to be no limit to the stupidity of military leaders and their willingness to throw away the lives of troops against superior defenses.