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Homing In On Laser Weapons 556

Posted by michael
from the now-all-we-need-is-some-sharks dept.
Bloodmoon1 writes "I just came across this article at GlobalSecurity.org that gives a very good summary of the current status of solid-state lasers as weapons. It gives you a good idea of where the JSF Laser system is at and just how much time, effort, and money has went into this project. Also has some basic, but very sufficent, explanations of some of the science behind the technology."
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Homing In On Laser Weapons

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  • Missile (Score:5, Funny)

    by e8johan (605347) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:46AM (#4563608) Homepage Journal
    I still prefer a good old missile! It feels more destructive to fire a rocket at your enemies instead of just flashing (a really *big*) light at 'em. :-)
  • by MrFredBloggs (529276) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:47AM (#4563615) Homepage
    keep quiet about the whole light and mirrors thing, I guess...
    • Re:We`ll have to (Score:5, Informative)

      by caveat (26803) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:56AM (#4564209)
      if you hit a mirror with a powerful enough beam of laser light, the small fraction of light that's absorbed (no such thing as an ideal reflector) will rapidly ablate the mirror coat, and then you're screwed. we have problems with this with our pulsed IR laser at work - we need solid polished aluminum mirrors with heatsinks on the back, ad that's for a 500mJ, 500ns pulse; they don't last that long, either. a 100KW IR laser will vaporize pretty much anything that's not *perfectly* reflective, i.e. anything we can build with current technology.
      • Re:We`ll have to (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MrFredBloggs (529276) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:00AM (#4564245) Homepage
        "a 100KW IR laser will vaporize pretty much anything that's not *perfectly* reflective, i.e. anything we can build with current technology."

        yeah, but if you need to prevent this sort of thing from happening to keep your planes/boats/trucks up and running, then its worth looking into solutions. Who knows what`ll be effective? Perhaps some sort of sand/concrete which will degrade pleasantly? Layers of shiny foil which peels off revealing more foil below. Also, non/slow moving lasers will be the perfect target for counter-weapons to lock onto if they`re active for a few seconds at a time - usually you`d just get a flash as the weapon was fired - now you`ll have `I am here!` flashing lights (& heat).
      • Simple fix (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FreeUser (11483)
        if you hit a mirror with a powerful enough beam of laser light, the small fraction of light that's absorbed (no such thing as an ideal reflector) will rapidly ablate the mirror coat, and then you're screwed. [...] a 100KW IR laser will vaporize pretty much anything that's not *perfectly* reflective, i.e. anything we can build with current technology.

        So you make your mirror subsystem disposable, and eject the spent mirrors like shells. Assuming you can get the desired result before or during the ablative process, you've got one shot, one mirror. We're used to such constraints with bullets and shell casings, and some disposable, portable ground-to-air missile systems, why not with mirrors?
    • by glesga_kiss (596639) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:13AM (#4564333)
      If you build your aircraft/missle out of reflective materials to counteract lasers, your going to make it a large target for radar.

      Stealth material generally works by absorbing the energy. The two defences won't be able to co-exist.

      • They won't have to... Think about how a stealth aircrafts defenses work. They don't defeat a missiles blast, they defeat the tracking mechanism that controls the missile.

        A laser weapon would STILL have to be targetted somehow. If the radar array can't see the aircraft the laser can't track/destroy it.
    • Lasers do have one big drawback. The beam is not very effective in inclement weather and requires greater levels of energy to pierce thick clouds.

      I am not a physicist, but I believe that even the infrared laser beams would be scattered by rain or fog droplets, making a laser practically useless under such situations. Since the power of lasers as weapons is dependent on all of the light waves traveling in phase and in the same direction, something as simple as a drop of water could scatter laser light in all different directions, disrupting the beam and rendering it tactically useless.

  • Mirrors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:49AM (#4563629)
    Wouldn't a couple of mirrors ruin the whole thing? I mean seriously. Cover a missile in chrome and the laser would just bounce off harmlessly, wouldn't it? Wasn't that one of the main stumbling blocks to SDI?
    • Re:Mirrors (Score:5, Funny)

      by briggsb (217215) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:11AM (#4563789)
      "We have a visual on the missile...er...wait...we're being attacked by a flaming disco ball!"
    • and leaving it very vulnerable to other forms of detection/destruction.
    • Re:Mirrors (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Ariane 6 (248505)
      Well, as any astronomer will tell you, no mirror reflects 100 percent of light, and making mirrors that even come reasonably close is extremely expensive. Shielding the entire survace of a combat vehicle with such a mirror would be impractical in the extreme under battlefield conditions.

      Given the powers at which these lasers operate, I imagine that the mirror would be effective shielding for a few tenths of a second before the energy not reflected built up enough to scorch the silvering. Once that happens you're dead.
    • Re:Mirrors (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Zathrus (232140) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:24AM (#4563906) Homepage
      Not really.

      Most mirrors are only about 95% reflective. The other 5% is transmitted through the mirror and absorbed (either by the mirror itself or the backing). Really good mirrors are about 99% reflective.

      Now, let's assume that somehow you manage to "chrome" a missile such that it's 99% reflective (not bloody likely in real life, but we're talking theory here). Someone targets a 100 kW laser at you. The mirror reflects/scatters 99 kW of the energy, while 1 kW is absorbed by the missile itself.

      It takes 216 kWs to heat 11 kg of steel by 10 deg C. Certainly you're not going to be able to keep the laser on the mirror for 216 seconds. But, that's ok, that's not the point. All you have to do is melt the mirror at contact point, degrading its reflectance so you can effect the missile itself. So how long does it take to boil the mirror into vapor? Probably a couple seconds. After which you have no effective defense and the 100 kW beam will boil off enough of the missile to render it ineffective. After all, you don't have to destroy it -- just alter the aerodynamics enough so it's incapable of targeting correctly.

      You could spin the missile to reduce spot heating, but that's going to complicate guidance considerably. And, frankly, I doubt that you'll get more than 80% reflectance on this sucker, which changes the equation drastically. And, of course, your maintainance crew didn't leave any oil, grease, or fingerprints on the missile casing right? Uh huh.

      The main stumbling block to SDI was tracking, targeting, and blasting a laser through several miles of atmosphere - all in about 10 seconds after launch. That or you wait until the ICBM is in space, in which case you now have to destroy (not merely damage) a dozen warheads and a couple dozen dummys. Which means you now have 20-30 targets to destroy in 30 seconds instead of 1 target in 10 seconds. Fun!
      • Spinning (Score:4, Informative)

        by ek_adam (442283) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:15AM (#4564363) Homepage
        You could spin the missile to reduce spot heating, but that's going to complicate guidance considerably.

        Some missiles spin anyway. The Sidewinder missile was intentionally slightly unstable and spun so that it flew in a spiral. Its seeker had one degree of control, up-down relative to the center of the spiral. When the heat source it was looking at was near the center of the spiral, the spiral would narrow down towards the target. When the heat source was not near the center of the spiral, the spiral would broaden out in a cone until it reacquired the heat source. Fairly early in its development a filter was added so that it would ignore anything with the precise infrared signature of the sun.

    • Re:Mirrors (Score:5, Informative)

      by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@hotm a i l .com> on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:29AM (#4563961) Journal
      Wouldn't a couple of mirrors ruin the whole thing?

      In principle, yes. In practice, no. If you were to put a very high quality coating of silver (for visible wavelength lasers) or gold (for IR lasers) on your missile, in principle you could reflect 95 to 98% of incident light. Special optical coatings can result in >99% reflectance, but only over narrow wavelength ranges.

      In other words, if the enemy knows the wavelength at which your laser operates, he can reduce the effectiveness of your laser weapons. For ground based installations, this still isn't a big problem--you just need a laser that's an order of magnitude more powerful, and you can cook even the reflective coatings on the other guy's missiles. I've done research work involving lasers in both physical chemistry and medicine, and I've seen a number of purportedly highly-reflective optical elements get toasted by a powerful enough beam. Also, high-quality optical coatings usually aren't meant to handle the stresses (physical and thermal) experienced by your typical missile (ballistic or tactical).

  • by Ececheira (86172) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:50AM (#4563636)
    Anyone ready to blow up a house from too much popcorn? :)
    • Looks at the facts: very high power, portable, limited firing time, unlimited range. All you'd need is a big spinning mirror and you could vaporize a human target from space!

      But seriously, I propose that all dictators be given 60 days to establish multiparty democracies. Failing this, aircraft and space based lasers will be used for the vaporization of all remaining dictators. Should they be replaced by other dictators, then the replacements should be vaporized as well.
  • Is it just me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danro (544913) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:51AM (#4563638) Homepage
    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "is hot on ... the notion of zapping people,"

    Is it just me, or does this make someone else worried.
    That man is kind of scary...
    • by BabyDave (575083) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:07AM (#4563747)
      I was scared from the moment I read
      Donald Rumsfeld "is hot"
    • by Sn4xx0r (613157)
      It is certainly better zap a person with a shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile, than to take a 1000 pound bomb to blow him up, and the couple of houses next to him.

      Reading the comment as if Rumsfeld would be some wannabee massmurderer just for kicks and grins is a disgrace to one of the few people in the US cabinet that actually has a brain and uses it. Hope he doesn't click my sig.
      • Reading the comment as if Rumsfeld would be some wannabee massmurderer just for kicks and grins is a disgrace to one of the few people in the US cabinet that actually has a brain and uses it.

        I really hope that article was hyperbolizing or sensationalizing Rummy's sentiment on laser-weapons, because anyone who gets "hot" or happy over killing someone does not belong in a position to do so. And yet we're sitting here, on the brink of war, with a bunch of war hawkin republicans whose only concern is that they beat the jones' in the weapons race.

        The DC sniper guy had a brain, a pretty clever (and evil) one too. But unfortunately it's what you DO with your brain, not just having it, that matters.
    • by Znork (31774) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:05AM (#4564277)
      He's also a complete moron. The next sentance:

      "Lasers are in line with Rumsfeld's idea of transforming the military, which is to come up with wonder-weapons that other countries can't emulate."

      Uh, yeah. Guerillas, the Taliban, etc all have these huge stinger factories and AK factories, because they're really actually making them themselves.

      Riiiight.

      Just like everything else it'll take a year or two and then it's out on the weapons market and in five years more people like Saddam and the Taliban have laser batteries slicing and dicing US bombers into teeny weeny metal squares.

      Other countries dont emulate weapons. They buy them, steal them, smuggle them or are given them. One thinks that a defense secretary would know this, but apparently learning requires actually having a brain. Maybe he can buy one on the black market.
      • Re:Is it just me... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by T5 (308759) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:35AM (#4564536)
        First off, understand that we're reading quotes from John Pike. A little Googling will clearly reveal his politics to be somewhat at odds with the current administration. However, for Pike to admit that these solid-state lasers are moving
        into the "engineering" phase (second phase of weapons development - research, engineering, and production) is quite revealing. For him to acknowledge publically any high-tech weaponry as making significant advances is, to me, quite shocking.

        Also understand that the arms race, which has existed throughout human history, is exactly that: a contest to see who can come up with the most effective weaponry the quickest. In this era of asymmetric warfare, nukes are useless. We've got a rapidly growing asymmetrical threat against which our current best practices and tools are less than ideal. New weapons and tactics are needed to counter such a threat.

        As to the open market availability of weapons for terrorists, sure, there's scuds (pun intended) available. As long as there are countries such as Russia and China producing cheap, reliable low-tech weapons, and other countries willing to act as brokers for these groups, there will be a channel. This, however, is a poor argument against transformation of our armed forces to respond to such threats, including development of new weapons that give our military another advantage. And, given the technical sophistication of the level of some of these new weapons systems being developed, it'll be years before opposing forces can produce clones in sufficient quantity to be worrisome. Case in point: look how long it's taken many countries to become nuclear capable. That technology is nearly 60 years old! Lasers have been around since 1954 (microwave, 1960 for an optical laser) and we still haven't been able to weaponize them to any significant degree. And much of laser theory and practice is in the open press, unlike many aspects of the nuclear weapons programs.
      • Don't forget how much damage the Taliban did with their M1-A1 tanks, Stealth Fighters, Cruise Missiles, smart bombs and Aegis cruisers.

        Yep, technological superiority on the battlefield is moot.
      • Sooooo... You're basing your assumption of Rumsfeld's inteligence as a military planner not on something he himself said, but on a qoute from some guy who obviously doesn't like Rumsfeld?

        Riiiight.

        Sheesh
  • E = mc? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cutie Pi (588366) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:51AM (#4563642)
    "The technology turns atomic particles into light with enough radiation to damage an object it encounters."

    Umm... anyone know how that is supposed to happen?

    But seriously, I'm sick and tired of science related articles being written by journalists with no clue about the science they're writing about. These articles should be checked for accuracy by the people the story is about.
    • Re:E = mc? (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by ksw2 (520093)
      I'm sick and tired of science related articles being written by journalists with no clue about the science they're writing about

      Perhaps you should clarify your argument with the journalist's statement, and post your own facts to illustrate the point for those who don't know any better. Who knows, you may even help educate a future journalist.

  • I suppose the ideal enemy defence would consist of a mirror which could be adjusted to redirect the laser to a target of choice, along with a decent magnifying glass to add that extra bit of punch!

    Fancy a game of real-life Deflektor anyone?

    • Would be finding one that woulnd't be instantly vaporized when touched by a laser of that magnitude. Certainly paint isn't going to work as it would instantly oxidize and loose all reflective properties. Polished metals might help but they too would loose structural integrity. The mirror would have to be close to if not 100 percent reflecive of all the radiation being pointed at it and remain so for the duration of the attack. As far as using smoke cloud around missles as protection, they too need to see for guidance purposes, plus it would be almost impossibly to keep a leading smoke edge on something moving that quickly as the drag on the particles would loose the impulse of the rocket engine as soon as they were ejected, leaving the rocket exposed.
  • The Airborne Laser (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tikiman (468059) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:54AM (#4563654)
    Check out the Airborne Laser Homepage [airbornelaser.com]. It's a project to strap a giant laser to a 747 that will fly around enemy launch sites and shoot down missles right after they launch.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:10AM (#4563781) Homepage Journal
      They started talking about that a couple of years before I got out of the AF, in the mid-90's. Although research has (obviously) been progressing, the idea ran into immediate and vocal opposition from the "fighter mafia" -- fighter pilots hate the idea because in the long run it means they wouldn't be able to strap on their sexy little planes any more. There's something about the idea of a big, clunky 747 circling around and zapping small, nimble targets out of the air that strikes deep animal terror into a fighter jock's soul.
      • by hikeran (561061) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:09AM (#4564305)
        Actually it justifies their job.. they have to go hunt down those 747's .. Look at the aging f14 tomcat.. it can track 100 targes (supposedly) at an extremely long range.. and hit them with it's payload of 6 .. (could be 8 max) phoenix missles.. hrmm .. now.. that would probably result in say 4-5 downed 747 lazer barges? .. since 747's suck at evasive manuvers they will have to rely on ECM/Flares/chaffe to protect them from missles.. and honestly .. flares only work vs infared seekers and chaff/ecm vs radar seekers... then with the advent of "stealth tech" it makes it easier for them to hunt down these planes..

        These lazers to me sound like a perfect system to rain down lazers on enemy tanks from above. I need to double check the article about the range of these lasers .. but .. if long enough would make it hard as hell to attack them.

        Another thing that makes these lasers allmost useless are sub launched missles... they will be launched from such a close range that there may not be enough time to shoot it down. and with the mobility of a sub.. well imagine trying to play whack a mole with the hammer and a whole football field full of these pop up moles.. can't whack em all..

        these lasers would be great if used vs land targets. Now the really effective way to target missles being launched would be from sattelites.. as long as they ahave a good stationary orbit they can cover an area and fire on them as they come up .. now if missles are launched how long would it take for the 747 to get to station to begin intercepting these targets?

        so my thoughts..

        747 modded to fire these could replace things like the specter gunships...

        sattelites are better suited to take on the missle threat...

        then again this is my opinion..
    • by TheSync (5291) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:56AM (#4564211) Journal
      Chemical lasers are really the short-term answer to laser weaponry. Solid state is a ways out (>10 years). Chemical oxygen-iodine (COIL) lasers can produce 10-100 megawatts CW today.

      The Air Force Airborne Laser (ABL) mentioned above will soon be joined by the ATL [flightdailynews.com] (Airborne Tactical Laser) of the Army. The ATL weighs between 4,500kg and 6,750kg [aeronautics.ru], and can be mounted on a C-130 transport, CH-47 Chinook helicopters, USN P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, or Osprey V-22s for ground attack purposes. Or it could be mounted on US Army tracked or wheeled vehicles.

      ATL will have a "sealed exhaust system" and will not exhaust poisonous fumes like the ABL. It could defend against cruise missiles, intercept incoming artillery shells of up to 300mm, knock out SAM sites, or be used for ground attack. It has a maximum range of about 25km, and can be shot 100 times before reloading the chemicals.

      Both the ABL and the ATL should be operational by 2006.
  • by Chardish (529780) <(chardish) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:54AM (#4563658) Homepage
    The warning labels on the outsides of laser weapons:

    CAUTION: DO NOT STARE DIRECTLY INTO LENS

    -Evan
  • targeting system? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sczimme (603413) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:54AM (#4563661)
    A Navy ship could use the laser, with its beam traveling at the speed of light, to fend off even the fastest missiles. And ground troops could use a Humvee-mounted version of the weapon to instantly knock out incoming enemy artillery and mortar shells.

    I would like to know how such a weapon will acquire/track/target an incoming projectile. (That was not sarcasm; I really would like to know.) Mortar rounds generally travel in a high parabolic path - think of the St. Louis arch. Larger artillery shells - such as those fired from a battleship - follow a flatter trajectory. The targeting system would have to acquire a small incoming object, predict the path it will follow, and fire within a few seconds. That looks like a daunting task.
    • Re:targeting system? (Score:5, Informative)

      by FeloniousPunk (591389) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:02AM (#4563724)
      The answer to your question is called AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37 "Firefinder" target acquisition radars. We've had them for 20 years - the -36 is designed to track mortar shells and the -37 other types of artillery (though IIRC, the -37 has all the functionality of the -36).
      They are very effective. They calculate the location of the firing tubes, and that information is passed to artillery units tasked to provide counterbattery fire (usually MLRS rocket artillery). This all happens very quickly - 30 seconds to a few minutes' time.
    • Re:targeting system? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Unipuma (532655)
      The advantage of a laser system is that you do not need to calculate the trajectory. Since you are firing at the object with the speed of light, the object will be (almost) in the same location from the moment you fire till the moment the beam hits.
    • Re:targeting system? (Score:4, Informative)

      by mikewas (119762) <wascher@gmai l . com> on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:12AM (#4563798) Homepage
      A daunting task, but one that has been solved by systems such as Aegis. Presently, systems must track an incoming threat which may either be an umguided weapon traveling in an arc such as a mortar round, a guided but unpowered weapon such as a bomb that uses fins to alter it's ground course as it drops, or a powerred guided weapon such as a missile which can turn in any direction at any time.

      Present systems not only have to aquire the target, catagorize the target, determine the best weapon to use in response. Then there's the same problem with the weapon you use to retaliate -- it also doesn't travel in a straight line so you must compensate not only for the threat's non-straight-line behaviour but also your own countering weapon's non-straight-line behaviour.

      Is you use the LASER, the second half of the problem goes away!

      BTW: Aegis solves the problem in a manner that is elegent or brute force, depending on your point of view. It uses an electronically steered RADAR to track incoming targets, shoot a gattling gun in the direction of the target, then tracks both the incoming target & the outgoing rounds, uses this data to modify the direction the guns are pointed. Elegent in the simplicity of its concept, brute force due to the fact it applies massive processing power to allow it to track an enormous number of targets.

      • Is you use the LASER, the second half of the problem goes away!

        Not quite, well, maybe for a ship and very close threats, longer range targetting (such as the ranges the ABL will have) do need the laser to 'lead' the target by a bit.

        Those Aegis systems are rather impressive in action.

    • Re:targeting system? (Score:5, Informative)

      by sql*kitten (1359) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:21AM (#4563880)
      I would like to know how such a weapon will acquire/track/target an incoming projectile. (That was not sarcasm; I really would like to know.) Mortar rounds generally travel in a high parabolic path - think of the St. Louis arch. Larger artillery shells - such as those fired from a battleship - follow a flatter trajectory. The targeting system would have to acquire a small incoming object, predict the path it will follow, and fire within a few seconds. That looks like a daunting task.

      It's a solved problem. The Sea Wolf [mbda.net] point defence system can shoot down 4.5-inch shells as well as supersonic missiles. Sea Wolf was first deployed in combat in 1982. Of course, you are likely to run out of missiles before they run out of cannon ammo, but maybe you can buy enough time to hit them with an Exocet [mbda.net].

      Warships are expensive, so a lot of money has been spent on ways to protect them!
    • Re:targeting system? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jester99 (23135) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:49AM (#4564142) Homepage
      The US Navy already has something like this in the form of giant guns mounted on some of its ships called "Phalanx" units. The thing fires thousands of bullets per minute, and it's all computer controlled. The purpose of this weapon is to track essentially anything that gets too close to the ship, and blow it to kingdom come. Missiles, planes, etc, are all valid targets. And it works, too.

      More info [navy.mil] is available. If you poke around online, you can also see some sweet movies of the thing. It just turns, tracks for a second, unleashes a wall of lead, then returns to the 'ready' position like it wasn't a big deal.

      War is a daunting task. Fortunately, we've got some relatively clever folks thinking things like this up! :)
  • Tactically Flawed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BoBaBrain (215786)
    The big disadvantage to large laser weapons is that they give away their precise position since laser beams travel in perfectly straight lines.
    <br>
    <br>
    Once their exact location is determined (in a matter of milliseconds) they can be targeted and destroyed.
    <br>
    <br>
    <br>
    Cool, but expensive one-shot toys.
    • Military lasers do not lase in the visible spectrum; you're not going to see the beam. And they would fire a pulse of energy lasting only a fraction of a second.
      If the target had a laser sensor, it could figure out where the fire is coming from, but I suspect the target is going to be having other concerns once it receives the laser pulse.
      • Re:Tactically Flawed (Score:3, Informative)

        by quick_dry_3 (112334)
        From October edition of Aerospace Internation journal (strange this gets posted just after i'd finished reading this article)

        "beam is expected to take anywhere from five to ten seconds to burn through the casing"

        That was from an article about the ABL mounted on a 747.

        But as you said, if you're getting hit with a megawatt laser beam, you've got bigger problems than finding out where it came from.

        And when that something firing is the size of a 747, finding it probably isn't such a huge problem.
        • Thanks for the info!
          Some things further complicating returning fire against the laser:
          * unless you have a laser of your own, you'd have to attack the aircraft with a missile, which is vulnerable to being shot down by the laser.
          * the other point that comes to mind is that the sort of technology to acquire and target and engage at great range these flying lasers are going to be available to very few countries, possibly even only to the US for some time. Certainly against the sort of enemies the US is likely to be fighting in the near-ish future, there will probably not be a way to fight back.
    • How is this different than firing a missile, mortar, or even a bullet? Once you start firing on a group of people, they usually figure out where it's coming from in fairly short order. Lasers are line of sight only. Unless they're seeing a laser shoot down a missile overhead, they're going to be able to see the unit anyway. Shoot and scoot will still be the order of the day, even if you have a laser. Besides, if they're busy shooting down missiles, then they've already been spotted anyway.
    • by sql*kitten (1359)
      The big disadvantage to large laser weapons is that they give away their precise position since laser beams travel in perfectly straight lines.

      You might think so, but tracer ammo has been around since WW2 and it's still in use today. That suggests that being able to locate a weapon that is firing at you while it is firing isn't as big a tactical advantage as it might first appear.
  • by vasqzr (619165) <vasqzr@netscaDEGASpe.net minus painter> on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:56AM (#4563676)

    Dr. Evil: Back in the 60's, I developed a weather changing machine which was in essence a sophisticated heat beam which we called a 'laser.' Using these 'lasers' we'd punch a hole in the protective layer around the world which we called the 'ozone' layer. Slowly but surely ultraviolet rays would pour in, increasing the risk for skin cancer, that is...unless the world pays us a hefty ransom?
    No. 2: Ahem....that also already has happened.
    Dr. Evil: Shit!

  • by Anonymous Custard (587661) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:56AM (#4563682) Homepage Journal
    1. I have one simple request, sharks with friggin' laser beams attached to their heads, and it can't be done?
    2. ???
    3. You mean I actually have frikin sharks with frikin laser beams attached to their frickin heads?!
  • by tiltowait (306189) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:58AM (#4563687) Homepage Journal

    From Austin Powers [google.com]:

    Austin - Dr. Evil, do you really expect them to pay?

    Dr. Evil - No Mr. Powers, I expect them to die. Even after they pay me the money I'm still going to melt every city on the planet with liquid hot magma. Release the sharks. Mr. Powers you'll notice that all the sharks have laser beams attached to their heads. I figure every creature deserves a warm meal.

    Number 2 - Dr. Evil, it's about the sharks. When you were frozen they were put on the endangered species list. We tried to get some but it would have taken months to clear up the red tape.

    Dr. Evil - Y'know, I have one simple request and that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. Now, evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that can't be done. Can you remind me what I pay you people for? Honestly, throw me a bone here. What do we have?

    Number 2 - Sea bass.

    Dr. Evil - Riiiiight.

    Number 2- They are mutated sea bass.

    Dr. Evil - Really? Are they ill-tempered?

    Number 2 - Absolutely.

    Dr. Evil - That's a start.

  • Wavelength? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cutie Pi (588366) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:59AM (#4563696)
    Does anyone know what wavelength these lasers are operating at? The article mentions that the lasers have a hard time piercing through clouds. It seems to me that an infrared laser would be more effective at piercing clouds than a visible one. Infrared solid-state laser technology definitely exists (the laser used in green laser pointers is in fact a 1064nm IR laser diode that is frequency doubled to 532nm).
  • "When can get my own light saber?"
  • by velcrokitty (555902) <{glebite} {at} {rogers.com}> on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:00AM (#4563705) Homepage

    I'll be able to walk into a store and ask for: "Phased plasma rifle in 40-watt range. "

    Excellent... Oh wait. 40-watts isn't very much. Is that what the Terminator really asked for? 40 watts? Sheesh. I could just hook up a light bulb and start shining bright lights in people's eyes. Perhaps the idea is to convince them to stare into the bulb for hours on end (like several of my classes that I attended) and eventually go blind-ish...

    I will be back...

    • by JKR (198165)
      A 40W laser could weld steel plate - it all depends on the beam spot size. Think about it - a 10 mW laser pointer isn't eye safe; a 40 W laser focused to a 2 mm spot would burn a hole straight through the eyeball and out the other side.

      Jon.

  • Asteroids (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Doug Neal (195160)
    Instead of spending public money on researching new ways to blow each other up, I wonder if this technology could be put to better use, perhaps mounted on satellites as an asteroid defence system?

    It's not entirely impossible that a large asteroid will head straight for us at some point... and somehow I don't think a re-enactment of Armageddon would work!
    • Asteroids! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Chibi Merrow (226057)
      Hey... Then we could use the laser to heat up one side of the asteroid... and make it land on our enemies! GENIUS! :D
    • Re:Asteroids (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jandrese (485)
      Ah, yes, I can see it now. A large (Texas sized) asteroid is headed for Earth. Our satellite laser system springs into action, burning small holes and heating up the asteroid a fraction of a degree before it slams into Earth. Lasers work on missiles because they have gobs of explosive and fiddly electronics packed in a small space, whereas an asteroid is a big dumb rock that doesn't care if it's 1% less massive when it hits the Earth.
  • I'm torn... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SquierStrat (42516) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:15AM (#4563827) Homepage
    As someone who might one day fly the JSF (I'm trying to become a Marine Aviator...I have one of my first interviews next week *crosses fingers*) I'm kind of torn on this whole idea of a laser. The geek in me says that's too kewl! It's like Star Wars or something!

    But then there is that overly logical Marine in me that says sounds unreliably. Much rather have a tried and true missile. This is is going to be very interesting to see when it actually goes into service how well it performs and is used. I could see this project either changing the way the military develops and uses weapons, or eliminating the whole idea for at least 50 years.
    • Re:I'm torn... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Chibi Merrow (226057)
      If I remember correctly from previous reading (ie: I haven't read this article...), isn't the JSF Laser a replacement for the ubiquitous Vulcan in place on practically all US fighters? I don't think they'd honestly drop missiles totally in favor of a Laser (Especially not w/ all the money and time we spent on AMRAAM and what I've heard about the AIM-9X :) so I wouldn't worry, you'll still get to shout cool things like "I've got tone!" "Fox 3!" etc. ;)

      BTW, thanks for your willingness to serve our country. Good luck in your endeavours and Godspeed. :)
      • Which still brings interesting points up...like how do you detect that you are overshooting or undershooting the target? Currently 1 in 5 rounds is a tracer. But you can't see lasers unless there is something special about this one (I've not really read up on it so I don't know.)

        The AMRAAM and the new Sidewinder are both well worth the money we've spent. Particularly the new Sidewinder. Most air to air engagements (with fighters) occur at close range. Hence an upgrade to our heat seeker has been needed for quite a while.

        Thank you for thanking me, it beats being called a babykiller (yes I already have been.) :-)
    • Re:I'm torn... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sql*kitten (1359)
      But then there is that overly logical Marine in me that says sounds unreliably. Much rather have a tried and true missile.

      I've no doubt that the first laser weapons will be pretty poor. But back in the 50s there were probably overly logical Marines just like you saying they'd rather have a tried-and-true machine gun fitted to their planes. Once a concept has been proved to work, the military have a history of being quickly able to turn it into something practical.
  • At the pace Research is going, they're going to have their laser ready in a decade - just in time to match what was depicted in Akira (1988) [imdb.com] with satellite SOL. One of my favourites movies btw. :)
  • A kilowatt is 3,600,000 joules, 10 kilowatts in respect is 36,000,000.

    Lightning is 1,000,000,000 to 10,000,000,000 joules.

    Basically they are trying to make a weapon that could blast the hell out of that tree in your front yard, but right now will have to settle for your cat.

    To put this in prespective, the adverage person uses 64,800,000 joules a month, or 18 kilowatts... So for every time they fire this baby, they are blowing 50-100 bucks....

    They essentially are what cause the blackouts in California.

    • To put this in prespective, the adverage person uses 64,800,000 joules a month, or 18 kilowatts...

      I had to read that in context twice. For a second it sounded like you were implying the military wanted to use human beings to power these laser machines, a la "The Matrix".

      ("It turns out we were wrong... the reason the machines began growing humans for power is because they couldn't afford the electric bill for their satellite television any more.")
    • by KFury (19522) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:54AM (#4564189) Homepage
      "A kilowatt is 3,600,000 joules, 10 kilowatts in respect is 36,000,000."

      What are you talking about? A kilowatt is a measure of power, and a joule is a measure of energy. The two are not directly comparable without a time factor thrown in. Do you mean a kilowatt hour is 3,600,000 joules?

      By your calculation, lightning is 280-2,800 kilowatts (0.3-2.8 megawatts). As we all know, lighting is more in the range of 1.21 gigawatts (humor intended, but general priniciple remains the same). It's not like lightning strikes last for an hour.

      ------
      "To put this in prespective, the adverage person uses 64,800,000 joules a month, or 18 kilowatts... So for every time they fire this baby, they are blowing 50-100 bucks....

      They essentially are what cause the blackouts in California.
      "

      What the fuck are you talking about? This [enron.com] causes the blackouts in California, not some sergeant flipping the switch on $100 of electricity.
  • Not Just Lasers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dscottj (115643) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @09:42AM (#4564089) Homepage
    What is not reported here, but has been mentioned in Aviation Week and Space Technology, is Israel seems to have already fielded a chem-based laser missle defense system, apparently deployed on the Syrian border (at least that's where it was last reported anyway).

    Another thing not widely covered in the normal monkey media: Gulf War II will almost certainly premiere our new "directed energy" weapon systems which have quietly been brought out of the labs over the past year or so. From the (admittedly basic) descriptions given to the non-monkey press by those in the know, the systems work with microwaves to zap electronic gear. They're mounted on precision guided bodies (not bombs per-se, but probably shaped a lot like them) and are one-shot items.

    The idea is superpowerful microwave radiation can fry anything with transistors in it, even stuff buried deep underground. These things deliver a burst of microwaves that fry things within a (classified) limited range. It's not clear if they can be directed or if it goes off in a sphere like a ghostly bomb.

    The reason they aren't already mounting these things on F-16s and just pressing buttons is a) the range is really short right now and b) they aren't directional enough yet and would end up frying the electronics of the shooter, which would be annoying to the pilot.
  • by _Spirit (23983)
    The weird thing is that the article mentions tanks as a possible platform. How can that ever be practical ? If I am not mistaken tanks rarely have a direct line of sight to their targets. If the laser is not airborne it's range would be very small compared to current weapons. Anyone with an actual understanding of how tanks operate in battle care to enlighten me ?
  • Civilians lose (Score:3, Interesting)

    by G. W. Bush Junior (606245) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:07AM (#4564290) Journal
    the article states:
    With such lasers, a fighter jet could destroy ground targets with pinpoint accuracy, significantly reducing the chance of injuring civilians.

    uhmmm... no!
    The problem with lasers is, that once they hit something the beam will reflected beam/beam fragments will be able to blind people in a LARGE area (as in a radius of several miles) around the target...
    Soldiers will be able to wear protective gear...
    Civilians probably won't...
    Civilians lose...

    If anyone has ever worked with really powerful laser you'll will know how strict the safety regulations are... and you'll know how difficult it is to find all the reflections from an experimental setup.
  • Geneva convention (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kin_korn_karn (466864) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:14AM (#4564357) Homepage
    Wonder what the Geneva Convention will be modified to say about this.
  • Next Gen & Counter (Score:3, Interesting)

    by limekiller4 (451497) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @10:19AM (#4564395) Homepage
    From the article:
    "A Navy ship could use the laser, with its beam traveling at the speed of light, to fend off even the fastest missiles. And ground troops could use a Humvee-mounted version of the weapon to instantly knock out incoming enemy artillery and mortar shells. "

    This is, of course, an arms race. So what happens when they're not firing missles anymore, but lasers?

    I'm not suggesting it's a bad idea. I'd just love to see what protection they'll propose when our opponents get up-to-speed. I also have to wonder if there is a low-tech way of defeating it (remember when we spent millions coming up with a pen that would write in zero-G and the Russians just used pencils?)...
    • by Guppy (12314)
      (remember when we spent millions coming up with a pen that would write in zero-G and the Russians just used pencils?)...

      There's a page for this on the Urban Legends Reference Page [snopes.com].

      Apparently, there are a number of problems with pencils, including the flammability of wood/graphite in the pure oxygen atmospheres that were used at that time, and that conductive graphite dust could drift into electronics and cause a short.
    • by Stonehand (71085)
      (*) Do you really think they'll stop firing missiles? Most countries likely to antagonize somebody with effective, field-capable lasers (large powers) are probably bothering somebody likely to remain without them (especially in the case of the US, whose forces are often deployed into an existing conflict)... so missiles won't be obsolete.

      (*) There are conflicts today where old weapons -- even as old as spears and machetes -- are side-by-side with moderately old weapons (AK-47s, for instance... and the explosive grenade goes back at least to the late 1700's, as primitive explosive-charges were thrown to detonate the powder magazines in ships... and the general concept of the gunpowder firearm goes back to the late Middle Ages; RPG-7s) and where more modern weapon systems (vehicles with reactive armor, laser-guided missiles, Phalanx CIWS) are practically non-existent.

      Hell, have you ever seen a Palestinian fire an automatic rifle -- perhaps a Kalashnikov or a captured Galil or M16 -- at an Israeli Merkava, when the latter is buttoned up? It's futile, as the bullets have neglible chance of finding a spot penetrable by the small rounds (/maybe/ the vision block), but that doesn't mean that they've ditched their rifles and are now swimming in RPGs.

      Weapons cost time (training), money (lots), contacts (need to find somebody who'll sell... for an example of a client with problems, I doubt that the radical Islamists can readily buy modern weapon systems from the US, Russia, China, or Israeli as they are all involved in ongoing conflicts with their brethren... well, maybe they can go to France. *shrug*)

      The last major weapon system concept to be completely obsoleted was probably the battleship, which yielded to the aircraft carrier battlegroup, and even now there are still gun-armed ships meant for surface engagements, I'm sure.

      (*) Remember when Snopes debunked the "NASA Space Pen" nonsense" [snopes.com]?
  • by anzha (138288) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @11:54AM (#4565169) Homepage Journal

    A bit of Karma whoring here, wish I'd gotten online sooner so that people would see this much earlier:

    TheHigh Energy Laser Systems Test Facility [army.mil] (so-called HELSTF). Let's see if Tom's webserver can survive this...This is the laser test facility for the army and navy at White Sands Missile Range. They've got the world's most powerful laser (MIRACL: Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser) there.

    Being developed for them, by Livermore by the same guys that are doing the National Ignition Facility is a solid state laser [llnl.gov]. It works.

    Also at HELSTF, and the first functional laser weapon, is Tactical High Energy Laser [trw.com] (aka THEL, and I hate that URL, btw...)

    Search TRW for more stuff on lasers as well as Lockmart and Boeing, of course.

  • by Galvatron (115029) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @02:25PM (#4566719)
    Okay, question: why don't SWAT teams and the like have laser sniper rifles? Sure, they'd be bulky, and require external power supplies. Sure, you'd have to make sure they fire OUTSIDE the visual spectrum to prevent blindness. But, for a hostage standoff sitation, where you've got hours to get your people into place, wouldn't having a weapon that would be 100% accurate by virtue of traveling at the speed of light, unaffected by gravity or air currents, be really useful?
  • by Mittermeyer (195358) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @07:57PM (#4569865) Homepage
    We need to let this tech linger in the background for a good long while. Rumsfeld is wrong, other countries will steal this tech and duplicate it within a few short years (see Russia and A-/H-bombs). Then we will not be able to do airpower projection, and our ICBM nuclear threat may soon ring hollow because if you can mount it on a plane you can mount it on an AA vehicle and put more juice on the ground vehicle then the airplane.

    Like Britain creating HMS Dreadnaught, this technology will be the seeds of our strategic decline.

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