back to article Boeing trumpets 'relevant battlefield laser' raygun

Monster US arms'n'aerospace outfit Boeing is pleased as punch this week to announce that it has "successfully demonstrated" its new Humvee-mounted raygun, the Laser Avenger - intended to prove "that directed energy weapons are relevant to today's battlefield, and ready to be fielded". Holy crap, one might think. Energy …

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  1. Mike Richards

    ' The Laser Avenger'

    That has to be the name of one of Stan Lee's less well-known superheroes. 'Mommy, I wanna Laser Avenger(TM) action doll with light-up Freedom Eyes(TM) and Cheney Deathgrip(TM) action!'

  2. Andy Worth

    Ray guns.....

    Well it might be crap (less effective by far than a hand-held traditonal rifle for example) but it's still far cooler to play with :)

  3. Carl Hill

    Hezbollah UAVs

    While I'm going to agree with the gist of your article you should be ware that Hezbollah did acquire and fly UAV's in their recent encounter with Israel. Agreed, they probably weren't even flown by hezbollah. They were likely flown by representatives of the generous donours, but the point remains they had access to them and flew them. That is likely the hearstring that Boeing was tugging at when they made their reference to UAV's,

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Laser Avenger eh?

    Command & Conquer got there first

  5. Blue Pumpkin

    The military uses are obvious ...

    Think of what a huge laser hair removal gun could do for operations in Afganistan - all those Taliban fighters reduced to jelly as their beards are removed.

    Imagine if the CIA had got their hands on one when trying to get Castro to light his exploding cigars ....

  6. Steve Taylor

    Ray guns.....

    can also be used to warm your pies for lunch, whereas a rifle makes a right mess.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    Hummm....phutt

    Perhaps the NATO codename should be "Humdinger"? ;)

    I'd disagree with lasers being "a solution in search of a problem". As a takedown methodology on moving targets, they've the advantage of zero time-in-transit (in _exactly_ which part of that missile do you want to drill a hole?) and, with the right aiming technology, extremely fast target acquisition and redesignation.

    They just have the disadvantages of being b*tches to make work, keep working, to power, to transport and to control. Still, how better to tattoo personalised messages to the enemy onto your own ordnance, _in flight_?

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Flame

    No, Mr Bond

    ...I expect you to die...

  9. Matthew Smith

    Blinding success

    What directed energy weapons are really for is to burn the eyes of the enemy out. Point it at a village in the distance and spray it around, and any snipers looking in your direction will lose their sight instantly. As well as any curious children You require far less energy than 1 kw to do this with.

    But the military will never say this. Instead its 'We engaged 5 IEDs'. How does one engage an inanimate object?

  10. Lewis
    Alert

    blinder!

    should be effective for scanning everything out to the horizon, blinding anything/one looking in the general direction, friendly or not!

  11. ryan
    Flame

    in fairness, they actually *can* shoot arial targets down.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt2qaTfT8QY

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    New tech - bah humbug

    "No Herr Daimler I think your automobile invention is rubbish - horses are much faster, and require less feeding"

    Not a very forward thinking article.

    OK it may be rubbish now but that shouldn't prevent it from becoming useful in future incarnations. Battlfield irrelevant is a fair point though.

    Don't forget - it's one of the steps required to make a light sabre...

  13. Keith Turner
    Black Helicopters

    "I'm trying to aquire a target - can you wait a minute?"

    So, it can damage stationary airborne drones.

    It's like asking the enemy sentry to look the other way while you stab him in the back.

    Test shooting of aerial targets is generally done with the compliance of the targets - they know where they are coming from, what they are and the targets are usually painted to assist the laser - either for targeting or heat transfer.

    The youtube clip is an advert - approach it the same way as any wonder product ad.

  14. Jon Green

    Re: "Blinding success", "blinder!"

    Not really accurate, Matthew/Lewis. If you have a powerful laser shone into your eye briefly, it makes a small hole in the retina. If the exposure's longer, it leaves random zig-zag burn track, due to the eye's tendency to jitter its position, particularly when an object keeps dropping in and out of view - as happens when part of the retina is ablated, and the eye moves to focus the object on a working bit of retina; repeat indefinitely.

    (If it helps, I used to work in an industry in which powerful infra-red lasers were sometimes energised with the usual safeties disabled, in order to test the equipment in which they were embedded. People working with the lasers had to have retinographs on a very regular basis, to check for burn paths of exactly the kind I describe above. No-one went blind, but one or two people who didn't observe the safety protocols got their sight a bit fuzzed in places.)

  15. amanfromMars Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    The only good war is a dead war.

    With the "battlefield" moving into the Virtual Domain of SMARTer IntelAIgents ...Beta Management of Perception and Economic Warfare using Business Intelligence, it does make all such high tech development look a bit dumb...... and I suppose the tired old business model of selling weaponry and technology to "friends" and foe alike is falling into disrepute too whenever it is realised that it is a "loaded" silly game for the House/Bank to win every time.

    Roll up, roll up, body bag yourself a human, make your country proud. And a bargain at exorbitant cost.

    Methinks the new battlefield will find the unholy alliance grunt element at a distinct disadvantage which will not suffer their chatter or be phased or diverted by their chaff, at all. The Primacy of the Environment rendering the Primate Neanderthal Mentality .....obsolete.

    I wonder what they will do with/for all those traumatised psychotics whenever they render them home to the bosom of the their nation and families? I wonder what adrenaline kick they can arrange for them?

    A little job for the boys pushing Skunk Works technologies would seem to be more than appropriate, all things considered.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Mini Me!

    Stop humping the Laser Avenger!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    It's all about the money....

    Well the place where I work has a 2.5 kilowatt CO2 laser profiler. The beam path in air is a few millimeters long and it still relies on a gas jet to oxidise the metal.

    Who actually cares if this thing works?

    The government looks "good", the military looks "good" and Boeing gets a snoutfull of taxpayer's pork to chomp on.

    So you hit a target with the full might of a one bar electric heater ? okaaaay

    Wow you could brew a cuppa from half a mile away. Cool.

  18. Donald Hickox

    Not everything is being told

    With a laser. If you can see it, you can hit it. A sniper perched on a hilltop 1/2 a mile away eyeballing you thru a scope waiting for a shot. Now he can get picked off with out a sound. A 1 KW laser would hurt a person, and distance is not a real issue.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Engaged?

    "How does one engage an inanimate object?"

    With a ring, silly. How else does one get engaged?

  20. Morely Dotes

    Scope + laser = large painful hole in skull

    Snipers use rifle scopes, as a rule. So your sniper is using a 10-power scope to try to pick off the laer operator from, say, 1000 meters - and gets a kilowatt in the face, concentrated into an even tighter-than-usual beam by his scope.

    Even a very small hole drilled completely through the head is going to be a problem...

  21. Tawakalna

    Not everything is being told, too

    "A sniper perched on a hilltop 1/2 a mile away eyeballing you thru a scope waiting for a shot. Now he can get picked off with out a sound"

    Unless he gets you first, especially while you're waiting for Laser Avenger to warm up, while he puts a bullet between your eyes. Or hits Laser Avenger's rather delicate focusing lenses, or even just shoots the tyres and runs away.

    stupid lasers.

  22. Chris G Silver badge

    Distance

    Distance with a laser is an issue as beam divergence will weaken the effect more and more as distance increases. I think 1Kw at half a mile will probably piss off a sniper enough for him to shoot you, an easy thing if the beam is in the visible part of the spectrum.

    However, for keeping the birds off the cabbages in my allotment and precooking them at the same time would be useful.

  23. Rick Brasche
    Thumb Down

    sigh, foaming peacenik or ranting luddite?

    Gee. a laser with a small point of impact, versus a heavy kinetic projectile, for detonating possible IED's. One gives you the ability to slice, dice, and controllably disable a device to any depth you desire. The other beats the device with a ton of uncontrolled force and hopes it breaks the target. Probably ricochets and puts others at risk. A laser is not a kinetic device, it's not a magic bullet. it's a *cutter*. A very controllable device that is limited in use only by the imagination of it's user (fortunately not the *lack* of imagination exhibited by certain El Reg writers)

    Everything from a welding device to a spotlight depending on beam collation, power output and beam duration. Low power: a handy psyops piece when you can write favorable messages on lowlying clouds or animated cartoons on the side of a mountain that poke fun at a local warlord. High power: defeat barbed wire, shut down surveillance optics. Possibly damage heat seeking or camera guided munitions. Provide a base defense who's method of operation (painful eye melting or some such) is so cruel the enemy is *afraid* to attack.

    But don't let little details like that get in the way of your "reporting". Can't The Register get someone to cover military hardware advances who doesn't approach every single bit of military hardware coverage like he'd already gotten his laser lobotomy?

    makes as much sense to have all your *nix stuff covered by Steve Jobs. You get lots of grade school pooh poohing and all sorts of personal bias but otherwise a useless article that reads like the school newspaper's review of their crosstown rival team.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ive engaged plenty of inanimate objects....

    ..and they are called toilet cubicles.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Relevant battlefield, eh

    Be nice if the US *did* fire the thing at the correct battlefield, and not one occupied by the British.

  26. Remy Redert

    .50 cal vs laser

    In the example of that sniper perched on a hilltop half a mile away. No wait, let's make a full mile, that should put you out of his range with most of the weapons they commonly use. Now you go and grab your humvee, drive it out, start up the generator, wait for the laser to warm up so it can fire. In the meantime, I will take my trusty old .50 cal bolt action rifle and put a slug into the insurgent in the time it takes you to turn the keys on your humvee. Sure, I'm not very quiet, but by the time the sound gets to my target, well, 300m/s vs 1200m/s, guess who wins?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What's the problem?

    It's fine to critique government programs that get nowhere and run far over budget, that's taxpayer money. But how can you fault a major aerospace corp. for marketing an R&D effort that has been funded largely on it's own dime?

    Sure, there isn't a UAV threat in theater... yet. But who's to say that technology isn't already filtering down (I think it is), and who's to say the theater of operation won't change?

    The technology may not be mature, but you've gotta start somewhere.

  28. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    relevant now - no, future potential - great

    People have to remember that this is the first developed working item! Ok, claiming its battlefield relevant now is a bit of over kill! We all know this thing as is will never see a battlefield, but the fact that they've demonstrated something with a bit of potential means that the idea starts to be taken seriously and gets some proper development... Its no longer just a piece of sci-fi hardware to be laughed at by the powers that be...

    Who knows in 10 years time, a truly relevant piece of laser based technology might make it on to the battlefield...(probably still Iraq, the way things are looking!). Until then though this is a good first step!

    Oh and Mike_T - read the article again. Boeing received ZERO taxpayer funding to develop the Laser Avenger, so quit whinging about your taxpayer dollars, it didnt cost you anything!

  29. Jon Tocker

    Thanks

    Andy Worth, for pointing out the only reason they are persisting with the research. It's definitely Waaaaay Coool to say "we have ray guns" - despite the fact they're slower to bring into play than a muzzle-loading rifle.

    Steve Taylor, for a practical use for the damned things.

  30. Angus
    Boffin

    @Rick

    Hmm well I think the point is that most of what you have mentioned there (perhaps not the animated cartoon on a mountain trick) can be done more effectively at the moment with conventional weapons/munitions. Until these laser weapons can be more powerful and reliable and do the job better than aforesaid conventional gear I suspect that they will not be terribly popular except possibly for niche applications.

    As for the derision heaped upon Lewis for his reporting style I fail to see your point. Since Lewis was in bomb disposal before joining the Reg and the "Laser Avenger" reported on here was being built up by boeing as a way of dealing with IED and UXO threats (that is what they successfully used it for). I figure he probably does understand quite well that aspect and the relative merits (or lack of) of the LA.

  31. Daniel

    Re: Blinding

    Ok, so all the insurgents have to do is to figure out the approximate wavelength of the beam, and get laser safety goggles. *shrug*

    However, I agree with Rick Brasche and the Anon above overall. Let Boeing build their laser; a semi-portable 1kw laser may not make that great of a weapon, but they are advancing the state of the art. There are a lot of uses for laser tech.

    -daniel

  32. Erik Aamot

    how soon we forget !

    look what the Martians did to us with raygunz in what ? ... 1938 ?

    those that ignore history, are doomed to repeat it !

    now about the stupid Web 0.4 icons .. really people ..

  33. amanfromMars Silver badge
    Mars

    Through the Looking Glass is a Window and AIDoor.....or is IT a Boer2*

    In Virtualised AstraMetaPhysical Fields .... Advanced Artificial Intelligence Conceptualisations [which apparently, hitherto, has been stalling Magical Mystery Turing work ...... http://www.wired.com/culture/geekipedia/magazine/geekipedia/artificial_intell ] .... AI MetaMorphosis of Narcissus into the Manic Realms of Nymphs and Satyrs will Render the Loaded and Loded Pleasure Avenger.

    AIRight Royal and Ancient Knights Temporal Stealth Cloaking the Holiest of Grails .... The Master Key to Nature's QuITe Divine Providence in her XStatic Provenance of Selfless Absolute Pleasure.

    A Powerful Cross that Bears Controls.

    PS. ...... As befits the Nature of Reality, the Perfect Sense in the Above Future is concealed and also revealed in all of the Options Derived from ITs Multi-Core Threading for Strings played out in the Love of Life's Symphony liveD .....with the Devil in the EMPathetic Detail to Simulate and Stimulate SympaticOS....... AI NeuReal World Order Programming Project.

    QuITe AI Coup 42 Register here...... with Prior Art Patent Application of Systems Operation with Copyleft Copyright too.

    *... http://blog.wired.com/defense/2007/10/robot-cannon-ki.html?cid=86909940#comment-86909940

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "if you can see it, you can hit it" "zero time in transit"

    Does the weather (rain, fog) affect this laser?

    Anyway, on a more general point: 1kW is about the power of a generous hairdryer, and at any sensible laser distance for this toy they probably also have comparable thermal effects ie ZERO instantantaneous effect, and if the client/target is moving relative to the beam, probably zero overall thermal effect (especially if the client/target is reflective)...

    Gervaise, get the Humvee for this one.

  35. Chris

    Is this a record?

    15 comments in on an article about lasers and some numpty hasn't started wibbling on about mirrors.

  36. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    early gunpowder weapons weren't real effective either

    .. but they improved.

    and the western world desperately needs zero-time-in-flight, non ballistic-trajectory weapons, because all the new generation of potential soldiers wont be able to hit anything using a real rifle.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Laser pointer..

    ..with attitude.

  38. this

    The Laser Avenger

    I used to have one of those. Difficult to start on cold mornings and the door sills rusted.

  39. Ru

    Focus

    For those of you comparing a 1kw laser to a hair dryer, or a bar heater or a toaster or whatever, stop briefly to consider that all the energy of a laser is focused on a very small point. This is why you can blind someone relatively easily with a few hundred milliwatts of laser, and yet I've been to places where there are lightsources producing literally hundreds of watts of power, and suffered no ill effects!

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: lglethal

    Hi lglethal thanks for your geekish whimsy.

    As I pointed out I work with laser tech much more powerful than this every day as an engineer. I know more about them and the physics behind them than you or most other posters could ever learn.

    Laser weapons are a dead-end. Attenuation over long range due to diffraction, diffusion and jittering spot position on a target renders them useless.

    Lasers DO NOT cut, burn or explode the target. They only add HEAT. All other effects are secondary results of this from outside factors.

    1Kw of heat energy even over a 1mm2 area, assuming you can jkeep it steady, is still trivial.

    Other than increased portability no new developments exist here.

    "Oh and Mike_T - read the article again. Boeing received ZERO taxpayer funding to develop the Laser Avenger, so quit whinging about your taxpayer dollars, it didnt cost you anything!"

    1) I happen to be in the fortunate position of being British so it would cost me nothing anyway.

    2) I never said they used grant funding either.

    3) When the US Gov orders twenty will Boeing give them to the military for free? Perhaps, as is more likely, a modest 10 mill each would be nearer? THERE is the tax pork I referred to.

    4) Who's Mike ?

    5) Please make constructive or amusing comments rather than noise.

  41. David Paul Morgan
    IT Angle

    US tax subsidies to Boeing

    Actually, Boeing is subsidised by the US taxpayer as much as any military/aerospace company in Europe.

    http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2006/february/tradoc_127479.pdf

    They just do it in a different way.

  42. Simon Martin

    Marking territory

    Yes, this weapon is pretty useless in its current state. However, those good ole Pentagon people have got a project to develop a 50kW solid state laser underway - I guess Boeing want to make it look as though they have a vehicle ready to go once the laser is ready.

    Its a few years off though - the laser should have been ready by 2004.

    BTW this weapon cannot be for blinding people as this is banned under a Geneva convention and there is no way that the US military would consider contravening one of those!

  43. Madge Silver badge
    Unhappy

    What if it is automated?

    http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/weapons/robot-cannon-goes-berserk-kills-9-312443.php

    A robot cannon began wildly and autonomously firing its huge gun in South Africa last Friday, killing 9 soldiers and wounding 14.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Blinding - Point of order

    Minor issue, under the Geneva Convention it's illeagal to intentional blind people, but when has the US given a stuff about International Law and Human rights.

    Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV)

    Adopted 13 October 1995

    Article 1

    It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices. The High Contracting Parties shall not transfer such weapons to any State or non-State entity.

    Article 2

    In the employment of laser systems, the High Contracting Parties shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision. Such precautions shall include training of their armed forces and other practical measures.

    Article 3

    Blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems, including laser systems used against optical equipment, is not covered by the prohibition of this Protocol.

    Article 4

    For the purpose of this protocol "permanent blindness" means irreversible and uncorrectable loss of vision which is seriously disabling with no prospect of recovery. Serious disability is equivalent to visual acuity of less than 20/200 Snellen measured using both eyes.

  45. stalker
    Pirate

    I know which I'd prefer...

    Being ex-army, and typically boyscoutish, i took every opportunity to blow things up, shoot things and generally make big loud noises. When they started equipping the engineers with .50Cal barrats i of course befriended the nearest bomb disposal guy and promptly went off for a "jolly" on the ranges with it :)

    given a choice between the low hum of an american "death ray" hovering over things for a few minutes until they explode, and the ball-numbing "kick, crack and thump" that comes from .50Cal armour peircing rounds hurtling down the range at 966m/s before blowing chunks out of buildings, vehicles, bombs, small children and, well, anything else that gets in the way, i know which i'd rather have :)

    remember boys, if it don't go bang, it ain't worth using!

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Mars

    @ amanfromMars

    jeez...you do know we're not listening to you anymore, don't you?

  47. adnim Silver badge

    Laser defence update to terrorist handbook...

    All operatives to now wear mirrored raybans.

    All operatives to carry a makeup mirror.

    All ordanance, IED's, roadside bombs etc. to be covered in tin foil (shiny side out) or placed inside disco balls.

  48. This post has been deleted by its author

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Focus - NOT at 1km range (or whatever)

    You either didn't read or didn't (want to) understand the earlier comment about "laser jitter".

    The spot from this 1kW laser at 1kM range is not going to be kept in one stationary (relative to the target) spot the size of the laser beam, not unless both HumVee and target are rigidly connected together so they don't move AT ALL relative to each other. Maybe some nice high-spec target-following computer from Raytheon is needed?

    Anyway if that's not happening, spot and target will move relative to each other, thus the spot will move on the target, and thus the net thermal effect *is* going to be not that different in military terms from Gervaise's hair dryer.

    Given the choice between Gervaise's hair dryer and an assault rifle, which is it to be? I guess it depends where you are.

    Maybe you could make a long-range single-sided toaster out of this one, whereas you couldn't out of the hairdryer?

    Toodle pip.

  50. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    One kiloWHAT: output vs. input

    One key problem with lasers is that they have very poor efficiency. YES this device may output 1kW of light, but it will be using easily 5 times more energy itself (18% is quite a good total efficiency of a solid state laser, if you include the pumping diode losses). CO2 lasers are generally much worse in this respect. So the target needs to get rid of 1kW in terms of heat IF 100% absorbtion occurs. With say 90% reflection (easily achieved with aluminium) this reduces to 100 W (powerfull soldering iron). In the mean time, the Laser Avenger needs to get rid of 4 kW, i.e. 40 times more heat. A major breakthrough is needed to get lasers more efficient (that would be good research in my book, applicable in many fields), or this problem will not go away.

    Firing a shiny shell from a gun is not rocket science either: a sabot like system used in anti-tank ordnance would probably do the trick.

    Quite apart from the above, rain, fog, and sandstorms (not uncommon in the most notorious current theaters of war) or simply refraction in heated, turbulent air (also common) play havoc with lasers. In the infrared part of the spectrum the effects are less, but not absent. Also, at very high energies, the air gets heated by the laser beam, and becomes turbulent itself, scattering the beam due to changes in refractive index at different temperatures. This is one reason laser fusion experiments prefer vacuum.

    So ray guns, OK, but only if they become efficient, and only in an ideal (i.e. absent) atmosphere.

  51. Keith Williams
    Black Helicopters

    @.50 cal vs laser

    OTOH, your training on the .50 Cal probably took 6months after you were identified as a suitable candidate. The laser, some 90lb weakling can drop a tv camera crosshair on a target and push a button to fire it.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tired of hearing abour Boeing, etc.

    Boeing, AMD, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft plastered across todays headlines (all American companies). I was certainly hoping to find more information about British tech companies here on theRegister, but I never do. Do they even exist?

  53. Gary Heard

    Mr Daimler (Anonymous Coward)

    "No Herr Daimler I think your automobile invention is rubbish - horses are much faster, and require less feeding"

    But in just over one hundred years we're about to have to revert to horses when the oil runs out -- unless you are a government, in which case you keep the oil for the important things -- like tanks and planes and .....

  54. amanfromMars Silver badge

    ESPecial Phishing XPeditions.....for Universal Virtual Forces

    "jeez...you do know we're not listening to you anymore, don't you?"

    Just establishing the limits of Registered knowledge, Anonymous Coward.

  55. bombastinator

    .50cal apparently not rated for IED

    It says in the .50 cal article that the weapon is designed for destroying air drop bombs only. This implies it's use against IEDs may be limited. The U.S. army recently mounted a small machine gun on a bomb disposal robot, but they then claimed it's value as a security system rather than for bomb disposal, which implies it's not very good at it.

    U.S. forces have a lot of Barnett .50s floating about, how are they at blowing the things up?

  56. Steve-o
    Flame

    Flagging this article

    According to El Reg Club rules, all articles written on the topic of lasers must include the term "boffin'".

    Otherwise a boffin' good article.

    Let's get it together people.

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