back to article MoD confirms award of giant frikkin' laser cannon contract

The Ministry of Defence confirmed today that it is spending £30m on a laser cannon proof-of-concept demonstrator, following a challenge to the award of the contract some months ago. The £30m deal for the Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) demonstrator will go to a consortium led by part-French defence firm MBDA, as reported …

  1. WibbleMe

    You mean Photonic Rail Gun

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      You mean Extremely Rapid Fire Photonic Rail Gun. Even a simple laser pointer would give Metal Storm a run for its money.

      1. kryptonaut

        Photon Energy Weapon (PEW), surely?

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          RE:Photon Energy Weapon (PEW), surely?

          Two of them and Barometric Atmosphere Ravishing Neutron Electric Yardbuster and we could be onto something!

          1. Esme

            Re: RE:Photon Energy Weapon (PEW), surely?

            @Tom7 - followed by the Mega-Amp Giant Radio Energy Weapon, I presume?

      2. WibbleMe

        Da Vinci once put a couple of curiosity glass piece together from the local market and made a spy glass. Flogging it to the local Millay for a bunked up price.

        So could I put a few laser pens together with an elastic band and flog this to the MOD, it might be marketed under "lazier" beam. lol

    2. Smooth Newt
      Meh

      What happened to the free market?

      Why do they need to do this? If I want to buy a phone, I buy a phone off of someone who sells phones. If there is a demand for phones, but no suppliers, then people will spot the market and start developing them.

      Why do I have to give some company which doesn't manufacture phones loadsa money to make one so they can start selling phones to me.

      Traditionally, British governments would justify this sort of subsidy with something about this being a British company so "national security", because then we can then get "British built" avionics kit etc made from components manufactured in South Korea and Thailand or wherever. But isn't MBDA about as British as Bœuf bourguignon? Where is the "national security" argument in that?

      1. WibbleMe

        Re: What happened to the free market?

        Yes lets buy one from the Rusher

        1. Smooth Newt
          Happy

          Re: What happened to the free market?

          Yes lets buy one from the Rusher

          I don't think Russia manufactures them. In response to your sarcasm, I will remind you that we are buying our nuclear power stations, and a great deal high technology infrastructure, from China, an aggressive dictatorship which we fought a bloody war with post-Second World War, and which continues to have serious ongoing military tensions with our allies, and everyone is fine with that.

          1. The First Dave

            Re: What happened to the free market?

            RE: China

            I think you will find that very many people are _NOT_ fine with that.

      2. Lars Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: What happened to the free market?

        About MBDA.

        A multi-national group with 10,000 employees working together across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Offices also set up in USA.

        Jointly held by 3 prestigious shareholders: AIRBUS Group (37.5%), BAE Systems (37.5%) and Leonardo Finmeccanica (25%).

        Perhaps you should learn about how the world works, Including the EU.

        Perhaps something to learn from British history too.

        "By the 1950s the UK was the second-largest manufacturer of cars in the world (after the United States) and the largest exporter.[3] However, in subsequent decades the industry experienced considerably lower growth than competitor nations such as France, Germany and Japan and by 2008 the UK was the 12th-largest producer of cars measured by volume.[3] Since the early 1990s many British car marques have been acquired by foreign companies including BMW (Mini and Rolls-Royce), SAIC (MG), TATA (Jaguar and Land Rover) and Volkswagen Group (Bentley).

      3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: What happened to the free market?

        "Free market" and "defense contracts" just don't mix. Everybody knows that.

      4. R3sistance

        Re: What happened to the free market?

        you want to give over national security to free market? And what if the free market is given incentive to ensure your national security isn't actually secure?

        I mean "free market" in general is a dumb idea that doesn't work when given any real rational thought because it becomes quickly apparent that there is ALWAYS an incentive of companies to lie, no matter how big or small that company maybe, since lying allows you to add false "value" to your product.

        Also you remove monolopy protection with free market and generally countries that try to go for "free markets" usually end out with issues with monopolized industries. I wish people would stop with this free market junk, it does not work. You need legislative protections against abusive companies. And when it comes to NATIONAL SECURITY, naturally free market would never work. Since another rival country could literally just pay your free market contractor to purposefully do a sub-standard job.

  2. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Next on the development list...

    Sandcasters and prismatic aerosol grenades.

    1. Dan Wilkie

      Re: Next on the development list...

      Put the Traveller rulebook down...

  3. Tromos
    Joke

    When...

    ...is the contract for the giant shark being put up for tender?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: When...

      No, it is the giant shark putting it to tender. Through intermediaries.

    2. David Pollard

      Re: When...

      Were the various recent reports of giant sharks off the Cornish coast anything to do with this? E.g.:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-36947356

      http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/huge-shark-feared-british-beach-8634846

  4. Roger Kynaston
    Mushroom

    Frikkin lasers

    Will armour plating now consist of giant mirrors or will it just burn through the glass and reflective coating? My physics on such things is of course close to no existent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Frikkin lasers

      One word - ok, two - ablative armor.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Frikkin lasers

        Many years ago a bunch of military people with a chemical pumped laser decided to test this "a mirror will defeat lasers!!" thing at the end of the year when they had some money left over in the testing budget which they had to use in case they lost it the next year. So they bought a mirror. Not just any mirror like a bit of glass or polycarbonate with a micrometer thick bit of foil stuck on the back, but a thickish chunk of aluminium polished to a perfect mirror finish. (so it also acted as a heatsink)

        The laser was reflected, for about a millisecond. Then the imparted heat caused the mirror finish to expand minutely at the point of attack, which destroyed the mirror effect and allowed more energy to convert to heat on the material. After several hundred milliseconds the surface finish was totally fucked and the laser simply bored a hole straight through.

        IIRC the smoke from a few dozen white phosperous grenades also has very little effect, other than giving off a prettier show with the laser.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Frikkin lasers

          [laser beatis smoke and mirrors]

          Interesting. But then, hitting a stationary target always works, even for Sergeant York and Copperhead.

          When the target is moving, and moving fast, it's usually a very different and much sadder tale.

          It was, when push came to shove, the final nail in the allready well-nailed coffin of the SDI project back when no-one at the MoD remembers. That also proposed huge frikkin' lasers (among a raft of other barely workable-in-the-lab ideas).

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Frikkin lasers

            "When the target is moving, and moving fast, it's usually a very different and much sadder tale."

            With a bullet, yes. You fire it, it takes a while to arrive and the target has moved. Manned targets are even known to make random course changes to make it difficult for shells to hit them, given they can't adjust course mid flight.

            You can of course fire things which try and guide themselves to the targets but manned targets are also known to drop packs of tinsel out of the back, which radar thinks is the target. Dropping burning chunks of magnesium is quite attractive to heat seeking missiles and does for those.

            But a laser travels at the speed of light, so if your pointing at it then your hitting it. There is no such think as evasion. This is a gamechanger, because no matter how expensive and advanced your flying thing is, it can't evade unless it can move faster than the speed of light.

            1. Stevie Silver badge

              Re: Speed of light = your [sic] hitting it

              Yes, this works in Star Trek, but In the "real world" there are other factors at work to prevent an uncooperative target being nailed quite so easily with a steroid-grown flashlight.

              One is accurately ranging and bearing on a fast moving target with a weapon that needs to be trained on the target for an appreciable time.

              Another HFL* mitigating factor is something called "path length", a property of real lasers that makes long distance killing with a beam of coherent light more problematical than vaporizing something fifty feet away in a lab. I'll let you research this yourself Peter2 rather than explain it myself.

              And although the laser beam is propogating at lightspeed, the altazimuthal gymbal that points it at things will be reacting at a much lower rate of speed.

              * Huge Frikkin Laser

              1. Peter2 Silver badge

                Re: Speed of light = your [sic] hitting it

                I think a 100kw laser is a bit beyond a flashlight on steroids. It's coherent light for a start. I'm not sure, but I think your actually talking about the spot size growing as a result of the beam divergence?

                Yep, but problem at long ranges on the early weapons. However each generation of laser is going to get steadily more powerful. When we get from the hundreds of kilowatts to the megawatt range then presumably the spot size being a bit large at range is going to stop being an issue at all. In the interim you'd expect that missiles would be used for high altitude intercepts, which pushes attackers down to below the level of the radar, which means that the range is going to be comparitively short.

                Accurately bearing on a moving target is pretty much a solved problem, just after WW2 the first tanks had gyro stablised guns so they kept pointing at the target while moving over rough terrain. This is an easier problem to fix, really since all of the technology already exists- the Rapier missile already tracks on target with 1960's technology. If it could be done fifty years ago with tolerable accuracy then with modern hardware improvements then it ought to be quite possible to produce a more accurate result today.

                1. Stevie Silver badge

                  Re: Speed of light = your [sic] hitting it 4 Peter2

                  Answering paragraph by paragraph:

                  First:

                  a) "Flashlight": turn your Ironic Understatement Detector on

                  2) do the research before drawing a conclusion. That way you don't end up confusing "focus" for "path length" which - condensed to soundbite length - is where a laser loses coherency and becomes, yes, a big flashlight.

                  Second:

                  Apparently you just solved the problem that keeps getting these HFL wepon programs cancelled. The Pentagon poindexters would like a word. They've been trying to crack this nut since somewhen around 1980.

                  Third:

                  Where to start.

                  If you have solved the problem of accurately bearing on a moving target without the need for on-warhead smart automation, you really do need to talk to the Pentagon poindexters. They could use this new knowledge to punch up (to pick one weapon system at random) Phalanx so it is more parsimonious with its limited supply of ammunition.

                  Gyro stabilising a cannon so that other systems can attempt to bear on a target is not germane to the issue at hand, and tanks fire at relatively close range at slow moving targets and, I should point out, preferentially do so when standiing still and hull-down.

                  Again, I suggest researching the various problems this plan kicks up against as an interesting project for the reader.

                  One could start with the difference between "your", "you're" and "yore".

    2. Chemist

      Re: Frikkin lasers

      "or will it just burn through the glass and reflective coating"

      For sea use the target will probably be salt encrusted anyway.

    3. Jaybus

      Re: Frikkin lasers

      It can never be 100% reflective. It depends on the backing material, the wavelength, the alignment of the mirror with the direction of the light, etc. Basically, it very quickly burns through and is virtually unimpeded within milliseconds. The mirror would, however, make a very good target.

      1. Jan 0

        Re: Frikkin lasers

        > "It can never be 100% reflective"

        So how does the mirror in the LASER survive?

  5. concangian

    'Collimated Radiation Energy Weapon' surely?

  6. concangian

    Collimated Radiation Energy Weapon, methinks ...

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Culture CLUB would be an even more terrifying weapon.

      "Do you really want to hurt me ....?"

      1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Collimated Radiation of Agressive Photons

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        An army of Boy-George-clones, riding giant sharks with frikkin' lasers...

    2. Jaybus

      Re: Frikkin lasers

      Or perhaps 'Coherent Radiation Energy Weapon'.

  7. Timbo

    Diamonds are forever ?

    I'm simply reminded of the laser weapon that was bedecked with diamonds and was put into space and started destroying various weapons....shame Blofeld was put out of business...he could have won this contract !!

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Diamonds are forever ?

      Ah, yes, Blofeld - he went on to apply for the job of Santa Claus. Didn't get it, of course, despite that trial run being a complete success. Not enough hair.

  8. herman Silver badge

    What goes up...

    Somehow I don't think it will work particularly well against a mortar, which is gonna come down no matter what, unless you have an anti-gravity laser.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: What goes up...

      The idea is to heat up the mortar round enough that it explodes in mid-air rather than in your bunk.

      1. Tom Chiverton 1

        Re: What goes up...

        Thus spraying shrapnel either on the target anyway, or the civilians under the flight path.

        Nice.

  9. Mutton Jeff

    Physical Brexit

    Burn GB out of Europe.

  10. User McUser

    "track and destroy targets over land and water"

    But not over the horizon...

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    "had been delayed by a challenge from rival bidders"

    Oh dear.

    See what happens when you choose to economize on l'argent in the (alleged) brown paper envelope?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: "had been delayed by a challenge from rival bidders"

      I have it on good authority that the trend is moving towards designer jiffy bags these days.

  12. Milton Silver badge

    Arms race rules, anyone?

    As idiot politicians have to be reminded every decade or so, and certain military nitwits above major general rank (where IQs mysteriously plummet as soon as the second star is affixed), you are doomed to lose any arms race in which countermeasures are cheaper than whatever they are countering. An interesting version of this rule played out since about 1960 as the ICBM-vs-ABM race has consumed colossal amounts of taxpayer cash. The late 60s produced the Sprint ABM (extraordinary performance for the technology of the time) which still had nowhere to go as the Sovs loaded up their ICBMs with ever more MIRVs and decoys.

    My point? As long ago as Reagan's Star Wars SDI imbecility, engineers were pointing out that it's much easier and cheaper to harden missiles against lasers than it is to produce vastly powerful beams which can track and sustain power-on-target against high speed projectiles. Practical ideas mooted included mirrored coatings; ablative coatings; and even spinning the projectiles so that contact energy was spread across the airframe. Slightly more "active" approaches include such things as nose nozzles to produce a fog to disperse laser beams.

    Lasers have their uses in target designation, comms, blinding sensors and the like, but for use (in the atmosphere) as destructive weapons means immensely powerful systems with fearsome abilities in target acquisition—holding a dime-sized spot in the same location on a supersonic projectile in the presence of rain, fog, cloud, smoke, chaff, sparkledust (take your pick) is difficult enough without the projectile itself employing simple countermeasures.

    In short, the only people talking up lasers with such optimism are those selling them. Still, they've surely got a willing audience of fathead politicos wielding the taxpayers' chequebook.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Arms race rules, anyone?

      "As long ago as Reagan's Star Wars SDI imbecility, engineers were pointing out that it's much easier and cheaper to harden missiles against lasers than it is to produce vastly powerful beams which can track and sustain power-on-target against high speed projectiles."

      Easier and cheaper - yet in the end it was more than the soviet Union could afford. (I'll leave it open as to whether that was the intent or just a post-hoc justification). Yes, there will be counter measures. Russia will probably afford them, Somali (or whatever county's next on the list) pirates probably not.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Arms race rules, anyone?

      Don't worry, Hillary's going to be starting the next cold war shortly...

  13. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    WTF?

    Sea spray!

    What f***ing use is this system on a ship? Are you going to send a sailor down to wipe the glass clean? You might need more sailors and a big supply of chamois leathers.

  14. Steve Graham

    I think it was "Coherent Radiation Emission Weapon System", or CREWS, which at least can be pronouced, unlike LDEW.

  15. Bob Rocket

    Seriously though

    Do none of these people watch the Big Bang Theory ?

  16. choleric

    MBDA

    Don't they sell credit cards?

    "Your house/car/RV/boat/private jet/Falcon 9 rocket (Elon, you can launch but you can't hide, we'll give you a Scheduled Precisely Acquired Contact and EXplosion) may be at risk of being vaporised if you do not pay the full amount on time."

  17. Dave 15

    Good

    Phew, relief, thought for a moment that the BRITISH tax payer funded protector of the BRITISH people - the infamous MOD - were going to abandon their usual practice of buying foreign things (foreign missiles, guns, bullets, planes, engines, tanks, uniforms) and spend some of the billions in the UK actually creating jobs and hope in the British arms industries (if indeed there are any left).

    Wouldn't be cricket old chap to actually be intelligent and realize asking Spain for tank spares to protect Gibraltar, or asking China for more uniforms if we need to protect Taiwan, or perhaps trying to ship more bullets from South Africa or planes from the USA when we have no navy is not a particularly realistic set of scenarios in a war.

    To be honest given the pathetic state of the MOD, the fact we don't have the industrial muscle left to make a bolt or the technical knowledge left to debug the shit the yanks palm us off with suggests that we might as well do away with the whole damned lot, cross our fingers and drink some more tea

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