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The Military Technology

Airborne Boeing Laser Blasts Ground Target 419

Posted by samzenpus
from the lazlo-approved dept.
coondoggie writes "The airborne military laser which promises to destroy, damage or disable targets with little to no collateral damage has for the first time actually blown something up. Boeing and the US Air Force today said that on Aug. 30, a C-130H aircraft armed with Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) blasted a target test vehicle on the ground for the first time. Boeing has been developing the ATL since 2008 under an Air Force contract worth up to $30 million."
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Airborne Boeing Laser Blasts Ground Target

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  • Quick! (Score:5, Funny)

    by nhstar (452291) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:36AM (#29295615)

    Someone find the house full of Popped Corn!!!

  • And Kent? (Score:5, Funny)

    by otis wildflower (4889) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:36AM (#29295617) Homepage

    Stop playing with yourself!!

  • Sigh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jurily (900488) <jurily.gmail@com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:38AM (#29295625)

    So how is it working against mirrors?

    • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by flyingfsck (986395) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:42AM (#29295637)
      A mirror surface will harden the target, but even the best mirrors do not reflect all light and a combat laser can still burn a hole in it very fast.
      • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jurily (900488) <jurily.gmail@com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:44AM (#29295653)

        I meant the reflections. Are they willing to blind anyone within eyesight?

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Microlith (54737) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:05AM (#29295767)

          I suppose that would fall under the category of collateral damage, and they're probably expecting everyone within sight of the target to be, well, "The Enemy(tm)."

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MrMista_B (891430) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:07AM (#29295777)

          The purpose of this tool is war. So, yes.

          • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Kjella (173770) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:21AM (#29295855) Homepage

            The purpose of this tool is war. So, yes.

            We already have plenty weapons with lots of collateral damage and they're being used, that was never in dispute. The question was how can this be a weapon "with little to no collateral damage" if in fact the reflections do collateral damage. If we didn't care about colleteral we could just throw a nuke at it.

            • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:29AM (#29298651) Homepage

              Compared to a missile, this does little to no collateral damage, because most targets don't walk around wearing mirror-covered suits. Do you understand now?

          • by fm6 (162816)

            So much for "no collateral damage."

          • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Informative)

            by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:02AM (#29296075)

            No, permanent blinding weapons are illegal

            Blinding weapons are banned by 1995 United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dazzler_(weapon) [wikipedia.org]
            http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/0/49de65e1b0a201a7c125641f002d57af?OpenDocument [icrc.org]

            • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Dhalka226 (559740) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:18AM (#29296153)

              Did you read your own links? From the second:

              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.

              Causing blindness is not a combat function of this weaponry; it's a side-effect of the other side trying to subvert the weapon. They were also not specifically designed to have such an effect. Their goal is to blow shit up from the air, with a particular emphasis on fired projectiles but probably used for vehicles as well (as per this example). In most cases there won't even be anybody around to get blinded.

              A bullet through the eye can cause blindness too, that doesn't make it banned. Intent matters.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Jurily (900488)

                Causing blindness is not a combat function of this weaponry;

                Define "combat function". I guarantee you that this thing will hit more eyes than targets.

                Causing blindness is not a combat function of this weaponry; it's a side-effect of the other side trying to subvert the weapon.

                Yeah, those morons should've made their tanks from black holes. (Hint: if you can see it, it reflects light.)

                In most cases there won't even be anybody around to get blinded.

                This thing can blind someone on the moon.

                A bullet through the eye can cause blindness too, that doesn't make it banned. Intent matters.

                Compare "tactical nuclear weapon". Hey, we only wanted to take out that factory!

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by pwfffff (1517213)

                  "This thing can blind someone on the moon."

                  Yeah well the sun can blind me from the frickin' SUN.

                  "Yeah, those morons should've made their tanks from black holes. (Hint: if you can see it, it reflects light.)"

                  OK so according to you, something that can blind you after traveling millions upon millions of miles through space will also inevitably blind you upon reflecting off any visible surface? Just like, you know, looking outside during the day?

                  Thanks for letting me know I've been blind since the first time I

            • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Toonol (1057698) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:31AM (#29296493)
              Firing at civilians is illegal too... but dropping a bomb on an enemy that is surrounded by a thousand civilians is perfectly fine.

              Creating a blinding weapon is illegal. Creating a destructive weapon that may blind as an accidental side-effect is perfectly fine.

              By 'perfectly fine', I mean within the terms of international agreements on the conduct of war.
            • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Informative)

              by TheLink (130905) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @05:04AM (#29296973) Journal
              > No, permanent blinding weapons are illegal

              Yes but please see "Article 3" in your link.

              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.

              So if one of those common laser targeters or this super laser can blind you, they still comply since they weren't designed specifically to blind people, they come under "incidental or collateral effect".

              You're just not supposed 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"

              So just blind people and say "Oops".
      • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:58AM (#29296061) Journal

        I was looking for a good place to crack a "Real Genius" joke. There's already a thread about popcorn... something about a "Real Genius" thought of that...

        A mirror surface will harden the target, but even the best mirrors do not reflect all light and a combat laser can still burn a hole in it very fast.

        Surprisingly, a mirror wouldn't work nearly as well as cheap glossy white paint.

        Mirrors reflect (typically) 60-70% of the light that hits them, turning the rest into heat. Cheap, glossy, exterior-grade white paint often reflects in excess of 90% of the light back.

        In other words, mirrors would turn about 4x as much of the light into heat as the white paint will. The difference is that mirrors reflect light without losing its coherency. White paint, on the other hand, just reflects the light in random directions.

        Worried about teh lazers? Paint your tin foil hat white!

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Informative)

          by feyhunde (700477) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:06AM (#29296403)
          Visible light they reflect you mean. This is a hard concept for many people to grasp, but depending on the part of the spectra you are looking at, objects can vary to how much they reflect and how much they transmit. If everyone chooses the same reflector, like a cheap paint, you just gotta change the frequency of the light.

          A great example is silver. In the very close UV, like 310 nm, it's completely transparent. Light goes thru it perfectly. by the time you get to Green light, it's over 90% effective at reflections. Good, somewhat expensive, white paint used as a reflectance standard is good between 250-2500 nm. The type of laser they have is about 1000 or so nm. Using frequency doublers you can make that high UV in 3 jumps and below the bottom of where the paint can reflect well. I've used such high powered lasers in Academia. Doublers are common.

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @06:28AM (#29297315)

          Mirrors reflect (typically) 60-70% of the light that hits them, turning the rest into heat. Cheap, glossy, exterior-grade white paint often reflects in excess of 90% of the light back.

          Finally, an explanation for the Stormtrooper armor design!

      • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Quothz (683368) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:50AM (#29296317) Journal

        A mirror surface will harden the target, but even the best mirrors do not reflect all light and a combat laser can still burn a hole in it very fast.

        Any laser that can melt mirrors very quickly would self-destruct even faster unless its own mirrors were constantly changed. Well, I s'pose you'd only have to change the surface rather than the entire mirror. Either operation would be tricky to do precisely in field conditions. Also remember, the atmosphere itself is gonna tend to scatter that beam, so if you want to melt mirrors from a distance, your own are gonna have to get considerably hotter.

        A decent reflective surface seems like it would be good enough to protect a building from this, although if the planes can also drop, say, rocks, that takes care of that. On a person, running around with a mirror would not do wonders for concealment. Personally, if I thought I was gonna be on the wrong end of a hurtin' laser, I'd light a smoky fire, kick up lots of dust, and/or wear thick layers of heat-resistant material like Kevlar while moving around a lot.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by El Puerco Loco (31491)

          First surface mirrors like the ones used in frickin' lasers can be made much more reflective than ordinary household mirrors. Covering a tank with 99.99% reflective precision mirrors would get awfully expensive, and any bit of dust or grease on them would ruin the whole deal.

        • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

          by muridae (966931) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:12AM (#29298411)

          The laser itself needs several small laser-quality mirrors. The target would need a much larger quantity of the same mirrors, and in the same spectrum as the weapon. A plain bathroom mirror is not smooth enough to reflect that much without those imperfections absorbing a good bit of energy. If the laser really does use 'as much power as a household over an hour' then we are talking about 10kwh. 3.6E7 joules, over how ever large the surface area of the 'impact' point is, and you end up with a lot of heat in that 5 second burst.

          Nope, that is definitely is going to take high quality mirrors to protect. For a moving target, say a rocket that is going to undergo high G acceleration, those mirrors will probably not survive launch. Other mobile targets, maybe. Buildings, well, putting meter tall neon letters on the roof saying 'this building is important' would be just as conspicuous. Mirrors, meet Predator. I think it has 500lbs of some iron that it would like you to meet.

    • by tsm_sf (545316)
      So how is it working against mirrors?

      If I remember my Car Wars, the way past a reflective surface was with an x-ray laser. Or was that through paint clouds?
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:40AM (#29295631) Homepage Journal

    They missed and cooked their server instead.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:43AM (#29295645)

    Thank god this circumvents the stipulation in the Geneva Convention against weapons that cause blindness. As the lasers purpose is stated as an anti-vehicular weapon, the side affect of inducing blindness is A-OK.

  • Pocket change! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by richardkelleher (1184251) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:47AM (#29295671) Homepage
    30 Million is pretty small money for the DOD and for Boeing. There must be more money in this project somewhere.
  • Are we talking flaming shrapnel everywhere, or some mild singing at best? TFA doesn't seem to clarify.
  • The test vehicle was located at 34D 10M 15.21S North, 119D 7M West.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:06AM (#29295769) Homepage

    It's still a chemical laser. It's quite possible to make chemical lasers powerful enough to be used as weapons, but so far the equipment has been too big to be very useful. The Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser is able to shoot down artillery shells and small rockets, but the equipment takes up three trailers and costs too much.

    The solid state laser people are catching up. The current output record is around 100 KW. [northropgrumman.com] This is enough to be marginally useful for anti-aircraft use. Around a megawatt, things start to get militarily interesting.

    Cooling is a huge problem for the solid state devices, though. With the chemical lasers, most of the heat is dumped with the spent chemicals. For the solid state devices, the gear has to be cooled, and efficiency is only around 20%.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TooMuchToDo (882796)
      For the solid state gear, you can use heat exchangers running along the exterior of the aircraft. It's mighty chilly at FL350. You just need efficient heat pipes to get the heat outside (like you mentioned).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by avandesande (143899)

      I don't think anyone planning this project ever believes that this chemical laser will make it into service(the logistics are horrible)- however the aiming and mirroring systems will and solid state lasers should 'snap in'

  • by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:14AM (#29295803)
    FTA

    According to as post on Wikipedia, each COIL burst produces enough energy in a five-second burst to power a typical American household for more than one hour

    /facepalm

  • to the Bat laser, we're going in to BATL with BABL!
  • by eggnet (75425) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:39AM (#29295951)

    Wow, according to the article, the laser is supersonic. Good to know.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Shadyman (939863)
      Whew. For a moment there, I was scared the laser might be going the speed of light. Now THAT would be dangerous.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Perhaps you were being facetious but they were referring to the ignition of the chemicals, not the speed of the "projectile".
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by eggnet (75425)

        You can only say that due to the absurdity of any other interpretation, not due to any clear communication by the author.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by labnet (457441)

      Not only that. They want to develop phased array systems with a total power output of 10W. Watch out paper aeroplanes!

  • by macraig (621737) <mark DOT a DOT craig AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:54AM (#29296345)

    ... to a size I can strap onto my sharks, since I haven't yet figured out how to grow them to the size of C-130s.

  • by SunSpot505 (1356127) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @02:57AM (#29296353)
    My company's developer had a side job as "computer support engineer" for this group a couple month ago (translate: 45/hr to configure software and as a human "fail-safe"). They actually did the first test fire a month or two back.

    It was only half successful.

    It did destroy the target which he described as a "basketball sized item" while traveling at ~450mph or whatever a C-130 cruises at (not supersonic). Unfortunately one of the chemicals has a ph of 17 and is stored at 2500 psi. When the tank developed a leak everyone had to don gas masks, move the cockpit and then make an emergency landing before it ate the plane. A full hazmat crew run by the company had to be flown in from Albuquerque to run decontamination.

    It makes me think that perhaps if they just shot those chemicals rather than the laser it might be just as effective and quite a bit cheaper.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MartinSchou (1360093)

      Well, there are a few issues with that.

      1) It'd probably count as chemical warfare
      2) It cannot hit anything nearly as fast or track it as accurately
      3) Not everything can be corroded
      4) If air for a target in a city with a laser and miss, turn off the laser and that's it.

      Now, if you think it's bad when unexploded cluster bomblets look like food rations [cnn.com] (picture here [mindfully.org]), imagine the reaction when a few kg of an insanely corrosive lands in the middle of a market place or playground.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:32AM (#29299489)

    From TFA:

    Both systems employ a Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) that is made by combining a bunch of nasty chemicals - potassium, peroxide, chlorine, iodine and other stuff and then fired at supersonic speeds.

    I'm pretty sure the laser fires at the speed of light which I guess is technically supersonic. Correct but a retarded way to explain technology the author clearly doesn't understand.

    Then TFA follows up the next sentence with the following gem:

    According to as post on Wikipedia...

    So Wikipedia is a source of journalistic research now? Oh dear... This guy isn't even smart enough to hide the fact he used Wikipedia as a primary source AND he has a typo in the same sentence. Is he trying to get on the Slashdot editing staff?

    Known as the SWEEPER, which is wicked short for short-range wide-field-of-view extremely-agile electronically-steered photonic emitters

    "Wicked short"? Is this some teenager from Boston writing this? Not according to the picture but the author certainly writes like a high school freshman.

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:21PM (#29300893)
    .... with the laser pointers: We're shooting back.
  • The article says that the the ABL uses a COIL laser which has an output wavelength of 1.315 Âm, the wavelength of transition of atomic iodine. What reflects light well at that infrared wavelength? Gold. Yup, just plate your missile with gold and it might be able to survive hits from a laser like this. They probably use gold on the mirror(s) used to aim this laser. The reflectivity of gold at 1.315 microns is about 98%.

    So if this really is a 1MW laser, then only 20kWatts of energy gets through. Plus, the beam diverges, so at a long distance the beam diameter might be something like 1meter. The USAF probably can't even run this laser for very long or else it will self destruct. So, 20kWatts of energy that is pulsed for a few seconds over a 1meter area? You can design a missile to withstand that. Just plate it with gold, and put on some aerodynamic heat sinks and/or shield and/or insulation.

God is real, unless declared integer.

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