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Laser Cannons Coming to an F-16 Near You 757

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the friggin-lasers dept.
dxprog writes "Reuters is reporting that the US Pentagon is designing a laser cannon that's small enough to fit onto a fighter jet yet powerful enough to knock out a missile. "The High Energy Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), being designed by the Pentagon's central research and development agency, will weigh just 750 kg (1,650 lb) and measures the size of a large fridge." Now all we need to do is make fighter jets space worthy for that true Star Wars feel."
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Laser Cannons Coming to an F-16 Near You

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  • by WellAren'tYouJustThe (705433) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:18PM (#13393000)
    Will there be friggin sharks on them too?
    • Will there be friggin sharks on them too?

      Who needs a shark when you've got a veritech?

      Kids today...

    • by HTL2001 (836298) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:12PM (#13393408)
      "...will weigh just 750 kg (1,650 lb) and measures the size of a large fridge."

      thats a bit to heavy

      then again... suppose 2 sharks carry it together... (to lazy to check monty python quote)
    • We have both this and the shape changing planes [slashdot.org] posted on the same day and the first thing you think of is if they have sharks on them? Now if you'd asked if they Transformed into sharks...
  • Great... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Seoulstriker (748895)
    Now they just need to be mounted on those damn sharks.
    • Re:Great... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tribbin (565963)
      Dr. Evil: You 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 cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have?

      Number Two: Sea Bass.

      Dr. Evil: [pause] Right.

      Number Two: They're mutated sea bass.

      Dr. Evil: Are they ill tempered?

      Number Two: Absolutely.

      Dr. Evil: Oh well, that's a start.
  • by spun (1352) * <loverevolutionar ... m ['o.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:20PM (#13393013) Journal
    Once we get them into space, will they make roaring, whooshing noises and manuever just like they did in atmosphere? 'Cause otherwise, forget about it.
    • true on the roaring and whooshing... ...but doesnt it make sense to have them manuever in space the same as in the atmosphere? that way a pilot doesnt have to think about what medium he is in. i think it would be easier for the pilot if both are the same.
      • but doesnt it make sense to have them manuever in space the same as in the atmosphere? that way a pilot doesnt have to think about what medium he is in. i think it would be easier for the pilot if both are the same.

        It would take a ludicrous amount of fuel to make a spacecraft fly like a jet fighter.

        It would also prevent the pilot from doing many maneuvers that can only be performed in space.

        Of course, by the time we have genuine spacefighters, piloted fightercraft will be a thing of the distant past. Remote
  • HELLADS? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anakron (899671) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:21PM (#13393023)
    The High Energy Laser Area Defense System
    So what's the other L for?
    I swear, the military just loves acronyms, whether they make sense or not! And what's an area defense system?
    • Re:HELLADS? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Stonehand (71085)
      Area defense = defense of a whole area. It doesn't mean that it's firing massively wide beams designed to fry whole areas (well, volumes) of space.
    • Re:HELLADS? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zocalo (252965) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:35PM (#13393143) Homepage
      So what's the other L for?

      "Liquid". HELLADS actually stands for "High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System", despite what Yahoo! would have you believe. Maybe Yahoo! are employing ex-Slashdot editors now; they do seem to copy everything else Google does... ;)

      • Re:HELLADS? (Score:5, Informative)

        by deglr6328 (150198) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:26PM (#13393849)
        FYI this is NOT a liquid laser. The term "liquid laser" is barely ever used in laser research and when it is, its used to referr to DYE lasers which are absolutely not what is being discussed here. It could concievably be used to describe a chemical laser where the chemicals are liquid before being reacted to lase but this would be incorrect because lasers are typically classified based on the phase of the medium which undergoes lasing. In the case of the chemical laser the lasing medium is a plasma formed in a reaction chamber by the mixed, previously liquid, chemicals. It's a gas laser. From what I can tell here though, neither of these things is what is being proposed for the HELLADS system. It looks like [military.com] what they're trying to do is match the index of refraction of a cooling liquid to the index of refraction of the slabs of lasing material in a SOLID STATE laser such as Nd:glass. Thereby allowing the efficient removal of heat from the laser material while it is firing and while also preserving the quality of the beam. I would be willing to bet [qpeak.com] they are looking at using ytterbium-doped strontium fluoroapatite (Yb:S-FAP) slabs immersed in a very dense transparent flowing liquid (perhaps even a molten salt like NaNO3) which is optically pumped by specifically tuned solid state diode lasers.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:22PM (#13393029)
    4 out of 5 swinging dicks recommend more steel plates for their humvees, not another toy for the flyboys.
     
    • Look at it this way: The military is a massive institution, that takes decades to complete any major change in its thinking and acting (this is as it should be, I think).

      Today's Humvee armor problem stems from the parameters for the Humvee project, which were laid down fifteen or more years ago.

      Since then, the nature of battle has changed dramatically, and the kinds of missions the military now faces aren't really ideally suited to the Humvee project the military had already committed to.

      So in another ten
    • by CrowScape (659629) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:48PM (#13393238)
      High energy lasers have very promising defensive purposes, such as being able to shoot down/burn up mortar and artilery fire as well as RPGs. You know, many of the things that the underdogs like to use in asymetric warfare? Being able to mount these things onto a fighter is a good step towards getting these things on the ground and in the field.
    • by CharlieG (34950) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:44PM (#13394335) Homepage
      Actually, at this point, almost all the Humvees are "Up armored", the problem is, as usual, this has lead to a response - less ak47 type ambushes, more IEDs. And as other, even heavier armored vehicles have shown up, the IEDs have gotten bigger - They refer to them as N-bangers where N = 1 or more - 1-banger is one shell/mine etc, 2 is 2 etc. The reports that I'm hearing say they have mostly given up on 1 bangers, and 2,3,4s are the most common

      Action leads to reaction, and no matter HOW much armor you put on something, you can always penetrate it - just takes a bigger bang. The say that some of the bigger IEDs actually pick something like a APC and throw them a couple of hundred yards, and up-armored HUMVEES just get blown to bits
      • Yep, the fact that the 14 Ohio marines that were killed earlier this month were in an Armored Amphibious Vehicle should show you that a Humvee, no matter how uparmored, stands no chance against the bombs being employed.
  • Nice, (Score:4, Funny)

    by seaniqua (796818) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:22PM (#13393031)
    But will it cook a Jiffy Pop container 20' in diameter?
    • Re:Nice, (Score:5, Funny)

      by shmlco (594907) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:42PM (#13393593) Homepage
      Only if you can also come up with a spinning phase-conjugate mirror AND manage to switch the targeting computer's rom.
  • Anyone ever come up with what the Aurora [abovetopsecret.com] was powered by?

    I'd love to see a pulsed-fusion plane...

    ...mit laser cannons!
  • NO, NO! NOT MY EYES! AAAAAaaaarrrrrghhhh.

    Okay, now I have to enter this stuff to avoid the caps filter. Talk about spoiling a joke....
  • Power Source? (Score:2, Insightful)

    They can put these things up there, but how will they really be powered? 15kW of energy is a lot to expect from any sort of battery system, unless the weapon can only be used once... Next they'll want to strap a nuclear reactor on the fighter planes to power the next version of the laser (150kW). And if they do have a way to power this for multiple shots, why isn't that same energy storage technology being used in my damn car so I don't have to pay $3 a gallon to fill up the tank?
    • Battery system? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vengeance (46019)
      How about a honkin' big jet turbine engine?

      Actually, I seem to recall reading (albeit in a 'Popular Mechanics' or some such light fare) about the larger all-liquid versions. These things apparently derived their power from a chemical reaction, the reactants being stored in big tanks. I believe that was a big reason for needing a 747-sized platform.
    • by ShadyG (197269)
      It's just a wild guess, but maybe you can have one if you also have security clearance, $47 million, and room for a refrigerator in your car.
    • Re:Power Source? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by syukton (256348) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:06PM (#13394098)
      150 kilowatts is 201 horsepower. (conversion link [google.com]; 1 horsepower = approximately 745.7 watts)

      F-16 Aircraft use a powerplant ranging from 15,000 to 19,000 (28,000 to 32,000 with afterburner) pounds force of thrust.

      To convert between thrust and horsepower, use this formula: [(Thrust in lbs x Speed in mph) / 550] x 1.47 = horsepower (formula link [americanjetcars.com])

      So let's assume an airspeed of 400 miles per hour.
      Without afterburners:
      Low: ((15,000 * 400) / 550) * 1.47 = 16,036.3636
      High: ((19,000 * 400) / 550) * 1.47 = 20,312.7273
      And with afterburners:
      Low: ((28,000 * 400) / 550) * 1.47 = 29,934.5455
      High: ((32,000 * 400) / 550) * 1.47 = 34,210.9091

      So let's say about 18,000 horsepower on average regularly and 32,000 horsepower on average with afterburners.

      A 150 kilowatt laser requires 1.1% of the total engine power produced (on average) by an F-16 turbofan engine, and 0.6% of the engine's power with afterburners engaged.

      In other words, I think they've got all the power they need.
      • Re:Power Source? (Score:3, Informative)

        by t35t0r (751958)
        You are uninformed. 150W is the output power. In order to get the lasing medium to actually *LASE* requires lots more input power than 150W. In addition to hit a target miles away and put 150W of power on it for any period of time requires even more input power. Depending on the lasing medium and what sort of laser it actually is (pumped, double pumped, etc) they will require considerably much more power than 150W.
  • Will these new laser cannons be able to shoot box cutters as well?
  • by robogun (466062)
    I can see the headline now: Air Force "reflects" on decision to purchase sexy new laser, after a test backfires when attempting to shoot down a mirrored missile...

    & yes, defending against laser is that simple.
    • Re:Missile defense (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:33PM (#13393116)
      Sorry, defending against a laser isn't that simple.

      You ever felt how hot a mirror gets in sunlight? Well, a lot of the light that hits it is converted to heat. Even a highly mirrored surface would get incredibly hot under a 150Kw laser beam. A missle is essentially a flying tube under a lot of stress, so a small non-uniform structural weakness would have the capability to tear it apart if it was travelling at high speed....
    • I can see the headline now: Air Force "reflects" on decision to purchase sexy new laser, after a test backfires when attempting to shoot down a mirrored missile...

      & yes, defending against laser is that simple.


      So how come Queen Amidala's ship had such difficulty getting past the blockade?
    • Re:Missile defense (Score:5, Informative)

      by rgmoore (133276) * <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:24PM (#13393488) Homepage
      & yes, defending against laser is that simple.

      Do you actually have some evidence to back that claim up? I thought not. The people who come up with ideas like military lasers are actually smart enough to have thought of things like mirrored surfaces on enemy missiles. They wouldn't have put all that time, effort, and money into the project if it could be stopped by such a simple countermeasure.

      Common mirrors are not 100% efficient; they absorb some fraction of the light rather than reflecting it. The actual reflecting layer is also quite thin. The small amount of absorbance is enough that a high energy laser will destroy an ordinary mirror very quickly, at which point the remaining energy is absorbed efficiently. The kind of extremely efficient mirrors needed for ultra-high power lasers are fantastically expensive and fragile enough that it's hopelessly impractical to try putting one on military gear.

    • Re:Missile defense (Score:5, Informative)

      by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:43PM (#13393594)
      No, you cannot defend a high-power laser by making a shiny missile. The whole point of using lasers of sufficient power is that even if you had a missile that was 90% reflective in infrared (which is at the upper end of what one could reasonably do for a missile), the power level is high enough that the last 10% of absorption is enough to ablate that lovely mirror finish and eat the missile. Note also, that most missiles guidance systems operate in the same part of the spectrum as the laser, which would make the pointy end have a very low reflectance by definition.

      The reason for using very high-power lasers is the same they prefer to use hyper-kinetic missiles: at some energy density, no plausible molecular material has sufficient bond strength to withstand it, effectively obsoleting armor.

  • Link to DARPA (Score:4, Informative)

    by Stanistani (808333) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:27PM (#13393079) Homepage Journal
    HELLAD DARPA PAGE [darpa.mil]
    • Re:Link to DARPA (Score:4, Informative)

      by Stanistani (808333) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:35PM (#13393141) Homepage Journal
      Google is your friend...

      From a DARPA PDF:
      "To help arm tactical platforms, the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS)
      program is developing a new high energy laser (HEL) tactical weapon system whose unique
      cooling system might allow the system to be 10 times lighter, significantly smaller, and
      approximately half the cost of current developmental HEL systems.
      The HELLADS design goal of less than 5 kilograms per kilowatt would enable, for the first time,
      high energy lasers that could be integrated into several air and ground tactical platforms,
      including unmanned combat armed rotorcraft (UCAR), UCAV, Predator B, the F/A-18, and
      future ground combat systems. HELLADS could protect fixed installations or population centers
      from attack, patrol a border, or patrol a demilitarized zone with the capability to react to hostile
      actions and engage tactical missiles, rockets, or artillery at the speed of light."

      This is from 2003, so this has been steeping for a while... is it soup yet?
  • by fromtheblueline (717915) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:27PM (#13393081)
    Pew pew or Brzzap?
  • ouch (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pin_gween (870994) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:33PM (#13393120)
    a 150-kW beam and capable of knocking down a missile will be ready by 2007

    Hmmm, I'm torn.

    On one hand, IF it hits its intended target, that is one less "consumable" missile defense that has to be manufactured and paid for--> not a "one and done" defense.

    On the other, it's one thing when stray bullets strafe a school like in New Jersey, but oh my, imagine the holes this could leave.
  • by phil4 (666912) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:40PM (#13393180)
    and measures the size of a large fridge. Cool! Lasers have been used for measurement before, but I bet this is the first time the military has been able to measure your fridge in your kitchen from 20,000 feet. The small hole in the kitchen ceiling is a small price to pay for this protection from oversize fridges.
  • JSF (Score:3, Informative)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:43PM (#13393199)
    Some versions of the JSF will have a laser system installed in the empty cavity used for the second engine in the VSTOL variant. The last thing I read on this suggested that the firing rate would be once every 30 seconds due to cooling requirements. I doubt any F-16 based system mounted on external hard points would be any better.
  • Anti-satellite? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Johnboi Waltune (462501) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:51PM (#13393260)
    Can it knock out a satellite?

    F-16 operating ceiling = 15.240 kilometers [danshistory.com]

    Minimum LEO satellite altitude = about 150 kilometers [wikipedia.org]

    I couldn't find any information about the range of the HELLADS system; that information is probably classified. However, TFA claims there will be a 150 kilowatt version of the laser by 2007. Any laser experts know if that power of laser can take out a target 135 kilometers away? Is the idea even feasible?

    • Re:Anti-satellite? (Score:5, Informative)

      by imsabbel (611519) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:09PM (#13393385)
      Very doubtful.
      The f 16 will be above of >90% of the athmosphere at the ceiling hight, so absorbtion in the atmosphere isnt that big of a problem. But divergence is.
      No matter what movies will make you believe, lasers arent perfectly parallel beams of light.
      Not to go too much into the details, a laser needs to have a large diameter to have a low divergence (hence the used large telecopes for the moon reflection experiments: a 5m laser diameter here will be a few km on the moon, wile a few mm here will be 100s of km there ...)

      I cant see how a jet-fighter mounted version would fullfill the requirements. The lens crossection has to be small enough not to fuck up the aerodynamics of the supersonic plane, and you cant just put a streamlines glasshood in front of hit because of the high pulse energies...

      So you could get some light onto a satellite, but not enough to knock it out...
      Otoh, I think it could be strong enough to permanently blind the CCDs of enemy spy-sats...
  • by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:54PM (#13393283) Homepage Journal
    Now all we need to do is make fighter jets space worthy for that true Star Wars feel.
    In Star Wars, fighters turn and bank as if they had working airfoils, instead of being in a vacuum. So to get that "Star Wars Feel" you have to stay in atmosphere!
  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:58PM (#13393305) Homepage
    will the pulses keep travelling in a straight line and vaporize whatever is in front of them on earth?

    i mean, the laser has to be powerful enough to work at a distance of several km, and a plane is only several km off the ground. normally if a missile does not hit its target it detonates in midair (raining debris on the ground), but this seems a bit more problematic.
    • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:25PM (#13393494) Journal
      Where do you think non-laser anti-missle ordinance ends up if it misses?

  • Cool! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:06PM (#13393364)
    Cool if it works. But how does the laser know there's a missle on the way? And how does it keep focused on it while the pilot is trying to pull a 9-G turn? It would take gonads of neutronium to maintain a straight course while the missle is heading your way.
  • HELLADS (Score:3, Funny)

    by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:11PM (#13393755)
    High Energy Laser Area Defense System

    I think Gasseous Optical Nuetral Area Defense System would have been a better name. What do you suppose would instill more fear in the enemy?

    "Run for your life! The HELLADS are coming!" ...or

    "Run for your life! The GONADS are coming!"

  • by jonathanbearak (451601) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:11PM (#13394123)
    I went to U.S. Airforce Space Readiness Briefing while I was a Congressional intern this summer.

    Lasers were covered and I had a brief chat with the Air Force representative after the briefing.

    The USAF is sticking lasers in 747's and the army is testing ground-based systems.

    The aircraft-based lasers cannot inflict any physical damage. They are powerful enough to scramble electronics. The goal is to target a missile shortly after it is launched so that its guidance systems fail and the missile lands in the enemy's territory, never reaching its target (us). Their goal is to use this as a powerful deterrent by making it very risky to launch missiles.

    The ground-based systems can inflict physical damage, but are nowhere close to being airborne (they're much too massive). They are, as I was told in July, still "in the lab." (I later saw a full-page ad in "The Hill," a capitol hill newspaper, promoting Lockheed Martin's ground-based laser systems as though they were about ready. I'll trust the USAF officer's discussion more than the corporate advertisement.)

    A key misunderstanding of lasers is in the kind of damage they inflict. Lasers will poke holes through objects but do not cause a target's destruction or explosion -- however, shooting through or over-heating a target's fuel tank will cause an explosion. And of course, to re-emphasize my major point, we don't have airborne laser cannons --- their goal is basically to inflict a kind of EMP-like damage to missiles. I asked about getting these things into UAV's and was told they'd love to do it, but don't expect anything for another 50 years.

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