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The Military Technology

Laser Weapon Shoots Down Airplanes In Test 627

Posted by Soulskill
from the phasers-on-stun-good-luck-kirk-out dept.
airshowfan writes "Boeing's directed-energy weapons (a.k.a. frickin' laser beams) have been getting some attention lately. The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) is a C-130 that famously burned a hole through a car's hood, and the YAL-1 AirBorne Laser is a 747 that shoots a laser from its nose that is powerful enough to bring down an ICBM. But even cooler is the Mobile Active Targeting Resource for Integrated eXperiments (MATRIX), a laser that is mounted on a truck (which probably costs less than a 747, but who knows) and that can shoot down small aircraft, as shown in the picture on this article. (The Laser Avenger supposedly also has this capability). We live in the future!"
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Laser Weapon Shoots Down Airplanes In Test

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  • Shiny things? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by patniemeyer (444913) *

    Wouldn't making your plane or missile shiny / reflective defeat these things pretty easily?

    • Re:Shiny things? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:49PM (#30159650)
      Let's get that out of the way.

      Ignoring the fact that you can't make an object shiny enough, because there'll always be a thin layer of dust, crud, or even oxides on the surface...

      ...if you dump enough energy into the air near an infinitely-shiny object to explosively transform the nearby air into a plasma, the shiny object still probably gets a big dent in it. Probably even more so if the shiny object is supersonic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vertinox (846076)

        ...if you dump enough energy into the air near an infinitely-shiny object to explosively transform the nearby air into a plasma, the shiny object still probably gets a big dent in it. Probably even more so if the shiny object is supersonic.

        I remember reading a SciFi book once about war in 2020 where the new apache like helicopter had smoke chaff of dust born particles to scatter the laser light of attacking craft trying to melt them.

        I think that would be the only reasonable defense.

        Of course you really woul

      • Re:Shiny things? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Interoperable (1651953) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @06:40PM (#30165086)

        Well it really depends on the the power density in the beam. If a target is 90% reflective to the the wavelength used by the laser, then the laser would have to be 10 times more powerful to achieve the same heating in the target. My guess is that polished aluminum might maintain 90% reflectivity, but who knows. Of course, a speck of highly absorbing dust will burn very quickly, subsequently, the burned area around the dust will also begin absorbing so a hole may grow very quickly. The question is then: how long can the laser remain focused on the burning patch? If it wanders due to atmospheric disturbance the spot may not cause a failure of the target.

        Here's the real problem. If you make the laser so powerful that a bit of dust will cause a significant burn to start, a speck of dust on your targeting optics will obliterate the laser platform itself. You could manage this by using a very large targeting mirror and focusing onto the target (possibly what the system does but I couldn't be bothered to look it up) but then you need accurate range-finding as well as directing and you need to keep the beam targeted precisely enough to hit a small focal point for an extended (probably still less than a second) period of time .

        At the end of the day the whole system is damn hard to get working. Targeting an enemy missile rather than a slow-moving drone may still be an unsurmountable challenge. I suspect that the whole system is a giant waste of money made even more expensive by the possibility of shiny targets.

    • Re:Shiny things? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by quanticle (843097) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:54PM (#30159752) Homepage

      Yeah, but if you make your plane shiny and reflective, you make it a lot easier to target with other weapons, like missiles.

      • Maybe... though I bet optically shiny is probably not as big a deal as radio shiny... at least today.

        Also, maybe you can coat your shiny thing with something dark that is burned off?

        I'm sure people have worked through the options, just throwing it out there :)

        • Re:Shiny things? (Score:5, Informative)

          by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:23PM (#30160362)

          Optical vs. radio is just a choice of wavelengths. Whatever wavelength you pick to be shiny, can be used to detect you. Whatever wavelength you choose to be "not shiny", can be used to destroy you.

          I wish GP hadn't bothered to mention the problem of stealth, because it's diverting attention from the point that matters - no material of any sort can be kept sufficiently reflective under combat conditions that the laser wouldn't destroy it. So really, even whatever wavelength you pick to be shiny, can still be used to destroy you.

          • Re:Shiny things? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Znork (31774) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @05:39PM (#30164088)

            no material of any sort can be kept sufficiently reflective under combat conditions that the laser wouldn't destroy it.

            Indeed. A more fruitful approach would probably be more similar to reactive armour; a material that produces large amounts of refractive or absorbing smoke particles to dissipate the beam and rapidly transport the energy away; a cursory reading about directed energy weapons indicate that even the ordinary vaporization of the target can cause shading problems.

            Various kinds of vapour countermeasures might also have the advantage of providing beam tracing possibilities for a retaliatory strike.

        • Re:Shiny things? (Score:4, Informative)

          by gnieboer (1272482) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @04:01PM (#30162148)

          A couple comments here are focusing on stealth, that's not the big question.

          There is not a single US Gen 2+ stealth aircraft engaged in Iraq/Afghanistan. F-117s have been retired, B-2 are not needed. The aircraft over there are relying on a variety of other IR countermeasures (tactics/flares/directed IR) to defeat threats.

          TFA is talking about shooting down UAVs, which pose a unique problem because they are very small and can be made out of low-tech composite stealth materials like frickin balsa wood. That, combined with a naturally low IR signature because of their low performance envelope, make it hard to target then with traditional guided weapons (IR and Radar guided).

          The key question, which TFA avoided giving details about, is what range they are talking about. If the range is = a 25mm chain gun, this system has little value yet, as if you can find it and track it, a turreted chain gun is already very deadly, the ballistics models aren't that hard to compute. But those weapons are also very easy to fly above.

          If this laser has a range of, say, 8 miles (40,000-ish feet), then things could get interesting. Data that would also be important is how long the laser needs to stay on target, and how small the beam is. If the beam is 1" wide, and must stay on the same spot for 1/2 a second, it could be defeated by old-fashioned 'jinking' which would move the beam around and diffuse the heat. But if it's 1/100 second, then again, it's really deadly.

          Finally (and then I'm done), this laser is really cool, but must be guided by something... at 40,000 feet (or at night), you'll need something better than a Mk 1 eyeball to find and track the target accurately enough, just like you do today, and that's where countermeasures could be applied.

          But a really good EO/IR guidance system that can find/track targets up to 40,000 feet on a clear day at night and a laser that can kill in 1/100" second (or close), and you've got a game-changing technology, forcing aircraft to hope for cloudy days.

    • Maybe, but that would also make them far easier to detect and hit with conventional anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

      -Peter

    • Re:Shiny things? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:03PM (#30159984)

      Wouldn't making your plane or missile shiny / reflective defeat these things pretty easily?

      The answer is no, because no shiny surface has 100% reflectivity (your bathroom mirror probably tops out at around 85%): some of the light will always penetrate to the base layer, and if the surface is being hit by a megawatt weaponized laser, it'll just burn straight through.

      • by fulldecent (598482) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:12PM (#30160150) Homepage

        well, that's easy... just attach 30 bathroom mirrors IN SERIES. that would reduce it it 1% of the original.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by MagicM (85041)

        Assuming they make the missile 90% reflective so only 10% of the power burns a hole, where does the remaining 90% reflect to?

        • Re:Shiny things? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:44PM (#30160776)

          Moderators: Parent may not understand the answer to his/her question, but that doesn't make parent a troll. WTF?

          Parent: The mirror won't reflect 90% for very long. Not long enough for it to matter where the reflected energy goes, I expect. Perhaps collateral damage to other mirrors in the area; or, more seriously, I suppose it could damage the vision of anyone who was looking at the target from the wrong angle.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jhol13 (1087781)

        The laser *ITSELF* has two mirrors.

        Why doesn't it burn?

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      What wavelengths would you make it reflect? Not all lasers are in the visible spectrum.

  • That's great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:53PM (#30159722)

    So when do our soldiers get to stop dying because of homemade street bombs?

    • That's easy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... m ['o.c' in gap]> on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:55PM (#30159774) Journal

      So when do our soldiers get to stop dying because of homemade street bombs?

      When we stop invading other countries?

      • instead of a police action where every activity is on film or subject to investigation.

        I doubt we could have won WW2 under the rules we use now, people no longer have the stomach to do what needs to be done.

        I know that your point is true, but we also lose soldiers to bombs elsewhere. We also manage to lose many times more to drunk driving yet we turn a blind eye to that.

        • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... m ['o.c' in gap]> on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:28PM (#30160454) Journal

          Really? We couldn't have won WW2 under the rules we use now? What new rules are those, exactly? Because, you know, the phrase "people no longer have the stomach to do what needs to be done" is pretty scary sounding. What exactly did we have the stomach for then that we don't now? Nuclear bombs?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Hythlodaeus (411441)

            Carpet bombing industrial (ie, population) centers. The fact that we don't anymore has more to do with the availability of precision bombs than development of new ethics.

            • by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:56PM (#30161012) Journal

              Carpet bombing industrial (ie, population) centers. The fact that we don't anymore has more to do with the availability of precision bombs than development of new ethics.

              What industrial centers? Afghanistan is probably the poorest country on Earth. If it's not #1 then it's certainly in the top ten. I don't think mass bombardment of "industrial centers" is going to have much effect on an enemy whose primary weapons are AK-47s and homemade bombs.

              • by GarryOwen (190545) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @07:06PM (#30165502)

                The carpet bombing and artillery shelling of WWII had two effects. First it did reduce the ability to wage war through the destruction of industrial facilities. Also, since we were bombing the living crap (killing) civilians in their homes, it broke the will to fight of the civilian population. We tend not to do that anymore, so we are ignoring a major component of how wars are won due to us wishing it wasn't true.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ArcherB (796902)

            What exactly did we have the stomach for then that we don't now? Nuclear bombs?

            That and the whole idea of carpet bombing populated areas. While "WE" don't have the stomach for it, I hope our enemies are at least as civilized. I have little hope for our current crop of enemies, however.

               

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by spun (1352)

              As another poster mentioned, we have not suddenly developed better ethics, we've developed better bombs. Carpet bombing is unnecessary now. We only ever carpet bombed cities with heavy war industries. Certainly, the effect on morale was part of the decision to target cities, but we did not use carpet bombing primarily as a terror tactic.

              • by Martin Blank (154261) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @05:00PM (#30163242) Journal

                You might want to talk to the residents of Dresden circa 1945. While the war in Europe was not yet over, it wasn't far from completion, and most of the reasoning for bombing it look to have been retrospective and stretched. Even Churchill, rarely one to shy away from attacking the enemy to advance even small objectives, distanced himself from it after he realized what the effects were.

        • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:36PM (#30160638)

          or we start treating it like a war
          instead of a police action

          It would be a lot easier to treat what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan like a war instead of a police action if they were actions conducted between states with distinct geographic bases rather than an efforts to suppress the elements of populations which are dissatisfied to the point of violence with the regimes established over the regions in which those populations exists.

          I doubt we could have won WW2 under the rules we use now

          Yes, its generally difficult to win an interstate war if you treat it as a counterinsurgency action. Of course, the reverse is also true. Applying the methods used to win WW2 to the operations in Afghanistan or Iraq wouldn't end the insurgency in either place.

          • by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @03:02PM (#30161088) Journal

            Applying the methods used to win WW2 to the operations in Afghanistan or Iraq wouldn't end the insurgency in either place.

            It wouldn't hurt. In WW2 we subjected enemies who declined to follow the laws of war to summary execution on the battlefield. Read what happened to the German soldiers who fought behind the line under a false flag during the Battle of the Bulge. It was even worse in the Pacific theater -- the Japanese committed so many war crimes under the cover of white flags (perfidy) that our troops stopped attempting to take prisoners and just shot "surrendering" Japanese troops on the spot.

            The tactics of WW2 (mass bombardment, armored warfare, submarine warfare, etc) aren't very relevant here but we could certainly learn a thing or two from the way the Greatest Generation behaved on the battlefield. Tying one hand behind our backs and following the rules when our enemies refuse to do the same is extremely foolhardy. You don't fight fair -- you fight to win. We used to understand that. Our enemies still do.

            • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @05:48PM (#30164274) Homepage

              It wouldn't hurt.

              Yes, yes it would. It would hurt tremendously. It has hurt tremendously to the extent that we've used them.

              The tactics of WW2 (mass bombardment, armored warfare, submarine warfare, etc) aren't very relevant here but we could certainly learn a thing or two from the way the Greatest Generation behaved on the battlefield. Tying one hand behind our backs and following the rules when our enemies refuse to do the same is extremely foolhardy. You don't fight fair -- you fight to win. We used to understand that. Our enemies still do.

              What you need to understand is that "win" means different things in different conflicts, and the "win" in state-vs-state warfare like WWII is monumentally different than "win" in a counter-insurgency nation-building conflict like we are now engaged in. Our enemies understand this, but many still don't understand that even though it already bit us in the ass in Vietnam, then again in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because they refuse to see that these wars are not just different from WWII tactically, but in their fundamental objectives.

              To fight an insurgency you need intelligence from the locals. To get intelligence from the locals, they need to be on your side. For them to be on your side, you do need to fight "fair". Refusing to take prisoners, shooting anyone who looks like they might be an insurgent, "rigorously interrogating" suspected insurgents, being cavalier about "collateral damage" -- all these things lose the support of the locals, and thus cause us to lose the war.

              Fighting to win? You're talking about fighting to lose. The rules of engagement that our soldiers abide by are critical to ensuring that we can succeed. Does "tying one hand behind our backs" make it hard to succeed? Absolutely, but without that it would be impossible to succeed. Don't like fighting wars where you must tie one hand behind your back to have a hope of winning? Well maybe you shouldn't get into that kind of war. There's another lesson you should learn.

            • by vertinox (846076) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @06:00PM (#30164482)

              Just a word about Afghanistan...

              The Soviets tried invading it like WWII and still lost.

              They had no qualms about carpet bombing villages or shelling it ground level. They would even storm them with full tank brigades.

              They would execute suspected guerrillas on the spot without question.

              They still lost that war.

            • You don't fight fair -- you fight to win. We used to understand that. Our enemies still do.

              And what exactly is a "win" in the context of afghanistan? We need to make sure that whatever we do to "win," whatever that even is in this context, doesn't create more enemies.

        • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.man@gWELTYmail.com minus author> on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:51PM (#30160898)

          instead of a police action where every activity is on film or subject to investigation.

          Well, the obvious difference is that the Nazis, Italians, and Japanese were the national leaders of their countries. Now we are not at war with Iraq or Afghanistan, we are working with the Iraqi and Anghani governments against irregulars within their borders. You fight these battles two very different ways.

          What do you suggest we do differently?

        • by MrTester (860336) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @03:08PM (#30161200)

          Thats a bit like a Cleveland Borwns fan saying "Our record wouldnt suck so much if we played by NBA rules".

          Until the terrorists start fielding standing armies and holding ground, I will continue to ignore anyone who compares todays conflicts to World War 2. Eexcept to make snyde comments, of course.

  • Now... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:54PM (#30159764) Journal

    Develop me a functioning Magnetic shield mechanism, so that I can mount both on a 1-man-space-capable-fighter, and get me a date with Natalie Portman, and my fantasy is complete.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      She's too young. Give me a two person space-capable-fighter. And her mom.

      And a pony.

  • ...It's the new camo paint!
  • *yawn* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by royallthefourth (1564389) <royallthefourth@gmail.com> on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:59PM (#30159874)
    Let me know when my government learns to do anything effectively besides killing
  • by thewils (463314) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:01PM (#30159926) Journal

    Apparently they capture the heat generated by the server as it gets slashdotted to recharge the laser. Keep clicking the links lads, it's your patriotic duty.

  • a laser that is mounted on a truck (which probably costs less than a 747, but who knows) and that can shoot down small aircraft,

    The goal for the 747-mounted laser is to shoot down missiles on the way up (when they are over bad guys) versus on the way down (like the Patriot missile). That's why it's on a plane, not a truck.

    • Re:747 vs. a truck (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:10PM (#30160110)

      The goal for the 747-mounted laser is to shoot down missiles on the way up (when they are over bad guys) versus on the way down (like the Patriot missile). That's why it's on a plane, not a truck.

      Well, the fact that they are over the people who just launched the missle is a side benefit, and doesn't really factor into why they are shooting it at that stage.

      In the primary phase, the missile is pretty limited in what it can do. It has to gain altitude and speed, and really isn't/can't be built to perform evasion at that point. Combined with the fact that the earlier you hit it, the more combustible it actually is.

      On the way down, what you are faced with is a VERY fast moving object (assuming you don't target the countermeasures) that has already demonstrated that it can resist the high temperatures of re-entry and consists of very little in the way of combustible materials. It can also employ a variety of measures to alter its trajectory (more than on the way up).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SnarfQuest (469614)

      Plus, the 747 can carry a larger tank for the sharks

  • Goldfinger: "No, I expect you to die, Mr. Bond . . . "

    Sharks aside, lasers only get really scary when someone has one aimed at your crotch.

    Apocalypse Now Guy: "Circumcise . . . circumcise, with extreme prejudice."

  • by LifesABeach (234436) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:08PM (#30160078)
    Could this Laser help with refining metals on the Moon? Could I use this machine to smooth a road, or carve a tunnel? Outside of making the Bad Guys day miserable, what OTHER uses could this tool have?
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:09PM (#30160100) Journal

    It's quite easy. Make sure that you have a defense contractor in every congressional district. Then you get to play the "jobs" card when someone tries to stop an idiotic waste of resources such as this.

    Dwight Eisenhower must be turning in his grave now that the Military Industrial Complex that he warned of has come to pass.

  • ...that is mounted on a truck (which probably costs less than a 747, but who knows)...

    Uh, yeah. But you probably need a plane to airlift the truck where it needs to go and, once you know where it is on the ground, it's a lot easier to avoid, thereby rendering the fancy laser kinda pointless. Or, instead, you can just build the laser into a plane which is far more mobile, able to get where it's needed and always ensure it has LOS on the target. But, yeah, the truck is cheaper.

  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:13PM (#30160174)
    EA has had this in Command and Conquer Zero Hour for quite a few years now. I'm guessing the U.S. military ripped this off from EA.
  • Now we know why sharks are getting on this list.

  • by Normal Dan (1053064) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:56PM (#30161014)
    "Aim Away From Face"
  • Fish in a barrel (Score:3, Insightful)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @03:25PM (#30161514)

    You can shoot down UAVs with this thing? WOOOOOW. Current UAVs are the short fat pimply kids of military aviation: they're slow and stupid, and you can shoot them down with conventional missiles, antiaircraft artillery, or a well-aimed fart.

    This is why we only use them in asymmetric warfare situations, where the bad guys are armed with nothing but Ak-47s. They wouldn't last 30 seconds in the airspace of any competent superpower.

    Designing a zillion dollar laser system to shoot them down is a pointless waste of money.

  • Deja vu (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chief Camel Breeder (1015017) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @03:32PM (#30161628)

    This is a bit like gunpowder weapons in the 14th century. They appeared in Europe early in that century, were pretty pointless at first, then useful in special cases, then, after about 100 years, more-generally useful. Professional soldiers at that time must have been pretty skeptical. "Interesting, but I'll keep the trebuchet for now, thanks." Up to, say, 1350, it would have been difficult to predict whether gunpowder would ever become a practical weapon.

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