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back to article US Navy blasts drones with ship-mounted LASER CANNON

The US Navy says it has successfully test-fired a ship-mounted laser weapon, and that it plans to deploy the device to an actual maritime staging area beginning in 2014. On Monday, the Navy released video and still images showing the somewhat-unimaginatively named Laser Weapon System (LaWS) firing on an unmanned drone, causing …

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My understanding from the video here and from what else I've seen (here on Reg in some BAE rant? :) is that the laser needs to maintain an amount of time on the same, or at least proximate, spot. The area at target is probably less than an inch, so I imagine that the accuracy of which you speak of at the turret's end could also apply to the drone, which has a lot more control over its immediate domain.

Once these lasers can burn a hole within a second or so, of course what I'm saying is moot - but these current systems aren't *that* powerful, no?

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For every degree that the laser moves, a drone would have to move 17.454 meters if it's 1 km away and proportionally more with distance. If it does so in a predicable pattern, then its of no use, so you need enormous g-forces and fuel burn. It's true that currently the laser requires relative long on-target time, but with adaptive optics and motion tracking (think Hubble taking pictures of the same patch for minutes while hurtling around earth - and it's hundreds of times slower in tracking than military spy satellites are) that's not a problem. Frankly it doesn't matter even if it took 10 minutes to destroy a target, it simply cannot be evaded through rapid motion. Once this is scaled up, China may find their anti-carrier missiles to be somewhat less threatening.

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Childcatcher

Demonstrators.

Another point is: will they ever be able to do it with semiconductor lasers? They are not particularly efficient and have to be properly cooled so the cooling pack for a MW class laser is truly huge; hence that big lump on the stern of the ship. This for demonstration purposes against a vulnerable target. Demonstration? Yes. War zone? Not yet, if ever.

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Silver badge

"Frankly it doesn't matter even if it took 10 minutes to destroy a target, it simply cannot be evaded through rapid motion."

True enough for a single target. What about the other few hundred, skimming along a few feet above wave level?

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"Once this is scaled up, China may find their anti-carrier missiles to be somewhat less threatening."

Only if there are more lasers than missiles.

It only takes one to get through in order to give you a bad day. Most don't even need to be particularly well "guided" in order to tie up the defense sytstems.

Yes, yes, phalanx for up close work, but even so, the chinese have more than enough capability to launch a large number of missiles if they want to.

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Trollface

Re: Demonstrators.

"semiconductor lasers... are not particularly efficient and have to be properly cooled so the cooling pack for a MW class laser is truly huge; hence that big lump on the stern of the ship. "

If only there was some sort of heat sink such as a large supply of water available...

Sorry. Had to be done. You are correct in that semiconductor lasers would be highly preferable, assuming resolution of all potential kinks, if for no other reason than simplicity and robustness of design.

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Ru

Only if there are more lasers than missiles. It only takes one to get through in order to give you a bad day. Most don't even need to be particularly well "guided" in order to tie up the defense sytstems.

To be pedantic: only if you can put more missiles into the air than the laser can disable in the time it takes a missile to travel from the laser's effective horizon to impacting the ship it is mounted upon (which is ~30 seconds for a Mach 3 missile). That's potentially quite a lot of missiles... missiles that are quite expensive and not exactly commonplace (the Chinese and Russians probably have hundreds, but not thousands, and they'll not all be in one place).

China and Russia may well be equipped for such an attack... folk like Iran almost certainly are not, and they'll be the ones most likely to come to blows with the US in the near future.

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Re: Demonstrators.

but then again, ships operate in a giant heat-sink known as the ocean...so cooling is not as big a problem as you might think once it goes beyond a technology demonstrator...

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We are not there yet,nt by any means, but still line of sight near relativistic speed weapons mean the end of air power, ... Rather a radical disruptive technology ... Bye bye aircraft carrier ..hello again battleship

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Until they outfit aircraft with lasers. May take a few years but they will get there.

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Ru

Until they outfit aircraft with lasers. May take a few years but they will get there.

When they can mount aircraft with a nuclear reactor capable of pumping out megawatts, and a heatsink capable of absorbing that much heat, I'll believe you. But by that point, ocean-going based kit with huge reactors the ocean as a heatsink will be orders of magnitude more powerful again.

Drones bearing big reflectors that let you bounce your battleship's lasers and focus them on targets over the horizon are the likely future of air power.

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FAIL

"Bye bye aircraft carrier ..hello again battleship"

Utter tosh: The whole point of an aircraft carrier is to project power. You can't project power with anything that is only effective to line-of-sight. Especially when it's foggy.

Laser-armed battleships are useless at supporting large-scale operations, unless your entire swathe of targets happens to be lined up on the shore.

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Vic
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> Until they outfit aircraft with lasers. May take a few years

They've already got one. The Boeing YAL-1.

Don't know if it's any use, though...

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

Many of you seem to miss the point: this isn't a chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL), or a fluorine laser, or any of the other chemical lasers that have been used in the past for this sort of thing, all of which have limits on the amount of ammunition you can carry, and all of which make some really NASTY exhausts.

This is a solid state laser at weapon-grade power levels. That is significant! That means that a nuclear powered ship can basically fire this for YEARS - the limiting factor being any wear-and-tear on the laser itself. Certainly a ship could operate for a great deal of time without resupply.

This also means that defense systems like you would want in, oh, I don't know, picking a place at random, say, South Korea against artillery barrage is just that much closer to being reality.

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Mushroom

Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

I tend to disagree.

Imagine a laser anti-artillery battery in South Korea. Since its power requirements are likely to be colossal, it would have to be fixed, at least the power source would. Even with North Korea's dismal economic state, artillery is relatively cheap. All they need to do is triangulate the position of the power plant, which is relatively simple, wait for a bit of fog to creep in (not that it would defeat the laser, but it would most definitely impair its function) and launch a barrage with n+1 shells, where n is the number that saturates the defences.

For the cost of a 100 artillery shells, a very expensive piece of equipment would be gone.

Now of course, this doesn't take into account air supremacy, which would very likely make mincemeat from the artillery about 20 seconds after its location was known, and so on.

Not that I disagree with you completely - I believe this truly is a massive development. I just don't consider it to be quite the silver bullet you seem to think it is.

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Mushroom

Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

This is a solid state laser..........Yup and perhaps this would lead to the development of specific HEMP weapons to combat them. Nuclear of course.

Oh yes I forget, the anti missile missile would combat the HEMP weapon.

That would probably start a development of an early seperation MIRV weapon where the warheads, dummy and real, seperate on acceleration not on re-entry.

Which would probably start the development.......

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Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

the power plant could well be underground.

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Facepalm

Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

Underground? On a ship?

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Silver badge

Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

"This is a solid state laser at weapon-grade power levels. That is significant! That means that a nuclear powered ship can basically fire this for YEARS "

In principle, yes. At the reported "less than a dollar a pop" figure, we can guess that the energy cost to fire the weapon "for a sustained burst" is about the same as a gallon of petrol. So that's around 10^8 joules, 30 kWh before losses. In a short time period that's quite a lot of juice to transfer electrically, which implies that cooling it could be an issue if used repeatedly, although the overall efficiency isn't mentioned.

There's also the issue that bring down a drone is a bit different to bring down missiles or combat aircraft, Positing a 30% efficiency, that's 3*10^7, how would that fare against a missile moving at the speed of sound or faster?

Early days, and interesting progress, but I'll be impressed when this can shoot down an incoming supersonic sea skimmer.

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Bronze badge

Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

Whilst this currently can't take down missiles and real sized aircraft due to lack of power, what would stop them from installing 10 of these on a suitably sized and powered ship?

Then you could point all 10, or however many was needed, onto the same point on the same target.

And cooling shouldn't be an issue, it's a ship. plenty of cold water under it.

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Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

I see you have read "The Butter Battle Book" by Dr. Seuss

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Vic
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Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

> the power plant could well be underground.

It's going to have exhaust ports. Probably about 2m across.

I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.

Vic.

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Re: Missing the point: SOLID STATE!

The location of the artillery is known the instant the first round leaves the barrel. Answering fire is on its way before the first round strikes.

This is not even considering air strikes and/or cruise missiles.

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Happy

What about satellites?

Hopefully this thing has enough to take out overhead satellites in space also. Now that would be impressive.

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Unhappy

Re: What about satellites?

"Hopefully this thing has enough to take out overhead satellites in space also."

It doesn't. It really does not have that level of power.

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Re: What about satellites?

Nor the ability to collimate the beam.

Which is important if you want to fire a laser through several kilometers of atmosphere.

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Alert

Artist's impression

RGB lasers? That's a subtle weapon indeed; I suppose they're going to generate huge virtual TVs on the clouds and distract the enemy with 'X-Factor'...

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Thumb Up

Re: distract the enemy with 'X-Factor'...

It'd distract me. To the point where I'd be redeploying any weapon capacity I had directly towards Cowell.

It's a novel defence tactic, but it might just work....

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Alternatively..

I suppose they're going to generate huge virtual TVs on the clouds and distract the enemy with 'X-Factor

Or project a *proper* Bat signal :)

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It needs a better name!

Ship's Laser Arial Precision for Human or Electronic Attack Devices

SLAPHEAD!

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Anonymous Coward

Thats nice..

But it took 10 seconds before the drone dropped - if that was a missile (even subsonic) it would have still wasted its target..

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kit

Re: Thats nice..

Laser canon is one of means to counter the enemy's attacks in the US arsenal. For other targets CIWS comes into play (including multiple short range missiles or multiple-barrel Gatling guns)

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Re: Thats nice..

I think the idea would be that this replaces the anti aircraft gun, not the missile defence system. Of course as the power on the lasers ramps up they may well replace the missile defence system too, but that's for the future.

Right now, this is saving the cost of the ammo and maintenance of the mechanical/chemical weapons

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Re: Thats nice..

To be honest I'm surprised that the USN is concentrating all its development of railguns into replacing large bore weaponry. A good flechette thrower could make mincemeat out of an approaching aircraft even if it doesn't help reduce the size of the powder store.

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Re: Thats nice..

All available statistics say that a battleship just will not sink unless the powder store goes up!

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Mushroom

Ulla!

"We'll send scouting parties to collect books and stuff, and men like you'll teach the kids. Not poems and rubbish - science, so we can get everything working. We'll build villages and towns and... and... we'll play each other at cricket! Listen, maybe one day we'll capture a Fighting Machine, eh? Learn how to make 'em ourselves and then wallop! Our turn to do some wiping out! Whoosh with our Heat Ray - Whoosh! And them running and dying, beaten at their own game..."

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Re: Ulla!

Nork Chorus:

"With just a handful of men. We'll start, we'll start all over again, All over again, All over again, All over again, All over again!"

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Coat

I find it interesting...

It's interesting that the fashion in weaponry is mov...

Hang on.

PONCE?!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I find it interesting...

Indeed. I wonder how many British ships it's been on maneuvers with have raised it on the radio with "I'm calling you (a) Ponce". Can't beat a sniggering Withnail & I reference.

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Pint

Re: I find it interesting...

A perfumed one?

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Re: I find it interesting...

It is named after Ponce in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which in turn was named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico and European discoverer of Florida.

Still does not explain why you would want to end up with a ship named USS Ponce!

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GBE

Re: I find it interesting...

Firstly, in the US, "ponce" doesn't mean anything in particular. Secondly, the US Navy probably doesn't really worry about about a handful of sniggering Brits. [Did I use the word "sniggering" correcly?]

Actually, I'm not sure if it's the Navy that picks names for ships or if Congress has it's finger in that pie. I wouldn't be surprised if letting a key US Senator pick a ship's name was a nice bit of pork to be doled out come appropriations time. The Navy would probably name a ship the USS Mangrove-Throatwarbler if it meant they'd get enough extra money to build another ship. [Yes, I know that's not how it's spelled.] But that doesn't really explain "Ponce" since the congressional delgation from Puerto Rico don't actually get to vote. Maybe it was in reparation for that one Puerto Rican island that the USN likes to pound the shit out of for practice.

That is all.

Resume giggling.

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Happy

Re: I find it interesting...

"Firstly, in the US, "ponce" doesn't mean anything in particular. Secondly, the US Navy probably doesn't really worry about about a handful of sniggering Brits."

I suspect that's not true, and that the ratings could be quite easily goaded into fisticuffs over it!

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More solutions

Ok, so they need to concentrate on a 1 inch or less spot.

That won't work for a rolling missile.

And I really really have doubts about aluminium frame cruise missiles painted white except under the missile (painted black). My guess: it won't do a thing.

So you would have to hit the nose cone, as it is going to be made of non conductive polymers...

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Shurely too much o a co-incidence?

Kirk's phaser is sold for 250K bucks, and immediately the navy is shooting down stuff with a "laser", maybe it wasn't so expensive after all?

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Meh

Yes the solid state part is important. Yes it will hurt some targets, but how narrow band is it?

Because if this is a single frequency device then fabricating interference mirrors which are 99.99% reflective at the target wave length is very possible.

It's efficiency is good (for a laser) in the high 20%s and it sound like it's power budget is actually quite reasonable.

Probably it's greatest benefit will be to move the tech of laser lightcraft a step closer to reality.

The dazzle issue against enemy pilots does sound like UN Convention on the Rules of War violation however.

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Bronze badge

Re: Yes the solid state part is important. Yes it will hurt some targets, but how narrow band is it?

Best come fitted with a frequency re-modulator then!

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Thumb Up

Maybe the Iranians

can pray their way out of this one

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Anonymous Coward

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Drone monitors it's chassis, when it starts to heat up, fires missile which locates the coldest part of the laser beam (the turret end). Lock aim. Turret damaged.

Or.. when it starts to heat up. returns fire with dielectric mirror fragments?

Or... dialogue maybe?

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Bronze badge

The resurgence of the battleship is already predicted due to rail gun tech.

A battleship with lasers and rail guns would again rule the waves as it could sink anything, including other aircraft carriers well before the aircraft carrier could launch and try to sink the battleship, and it could down any aircraft or missiles that came into range. (Small rail guns for anti aircraft use, larger rail guns for anti ship and land bombardment).

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