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The Military

Directed Energy Weapon Downs Ballistic Missile 297

Posted by kdawson
from the sharks-as-witnesses dept.
A**masher writes "In a test off the Califoria coast late last night, Boeing's Airborne Laser successfully destroyed a sub-launched ballistic missile. 'This was the first directed energy lethal intercept demonstration against a liquid-fuel boosting ballistic missile target from an airborne platform,' reported the Missile Defense Agency. It should be noted that destroying a liquid-fueled ballistic missile is generally considered easier than killing a solid-fueled equivalent due to the relative fragility of the fueling and other systems."
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Directed Energy Weapon Downs Ballistic Missile

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday February 12, 2010 @10:39AM (#31112774)

    Some people may worry that a laser this powerful could be used to build some sort of spaced-based precision bomber. But don't worry, you'd have to get someone to build you optics for a phase conjugate target tracking system to do something like that. And no one is stupid enough to do that without realizing the implications.

    • by bsDaemon (87307)
      Whether or not the people who sign the contracts are stupid isn't the issue, its how greedy they are, and I think we all know the answer to that.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by jeffmeden (135043)

        Let's be practical. As of today, if we want to take out an enemy threat, we send a big ol' bomb after them. If they happen to have surrounded themselves with 20 innocent people, collateral damage ensues. This is acceptable to pretty much everyone (except maybe the loved ones of the innocents who died.) Even if this system were to be put into use as a single-fire human target eliminator, it would be replacing a tool that is far less 'evil'.

        Oh, and I know you and the GP were trying to be funny, Real Geniu

        • Re:*more* evil (Score:3, Informative)

          by jeffmeden (135043)

          Even if this system were to be put into use as a single-fire human target eliminator, it would be replacing a tool that is far more 'evil'.

          fixed that for me

        • by bsDaemon (87307)
          I've actually never seen that movie.
      • by DJRumpy (1345787)

        Can I get a *Woosh*? ;)

    • by gadzook33 (740455)
      Of course, you'd also need a large spinning mirror.
    • by vtcodger (957785)

      ***Some people may worry that a laser this powerful could be used to build some sort of spaced-based precision bomber.***

      Rather the reverse doncha think? Might be a dandy tool for shooting holes in space-based military systems.

      There's a difference between controlling the high ground and climbing a tree. It's always seemed to me that putting weapons in space was sort of the equivalent of climbing a tree with a sack full of grenades then watching a tank haul over the horizon with a large chain saw mounted o

      • Tank. Chain saw. Alright, I might accept a bulldozer blade, because it's been done. But, a chainsaw? Come on - - - -

        As for the grenades - I'd rather just have some crowbars. I'm sure you know about XKCD - there are many drawings of those space crowbars. Kinetic energy is pretty awesome - no need to carry around all those explosive charges, putting yourself at risk.

  • by VorpalRodent (964940) on Friday February 12, 2010 @10:47AM (#31112882)
    The article indicates that this is the first demonstration from an airborne platform. However, I am significantly more interested in the application of directed energy weapons from certain aquatic platforms.
  • Unfortunately (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey! (33014) on Friday February 12, 2010 @10:50AM (#31112910) Homepage Journal

    these demonstrations aren't exactly peer reviewed.

    Not many people doubt that a directed energy weapon can, under the right conditions, shoot down a ballistic missile. The question is whether we'll see on, in our lifetime, shoot down a ballistic missile under realistic conditions. Then being able to that reliably enough.

    I'm not doctrinally against developing directed energy weapons, or even anti-missile systems, especially boost-phase systems. But there's been too much fakery and even downright fraud in these programs for me to lend much credence to any "breakthroughs".

    • by Bragador (1036480)
      Well it might or might not be true. That's the point of propaganda. This news is also being revealed while the USA and China are being pissed at each others over Taiwan. It might be a coincidence, but it sure is a useful coincidence.
      • by jgtg32a (1173373)

        I really doubt there will be a war with Taiwan, if China starts something the first thing the US will do is say "Yeah, about that $1T we owe you"

        • by Bragador (1036480)
          Taiwan officially is part of China. The US is part of a minority that recognizes Taiwan's sovereignty. Also, the US are selling weapons to Taiwan so it could be seen as provocation. If the US decides not to pay its debt to China, everyone would see that the US is not a safe place to invest. The US dollar would plummet.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Taiwan's status is undetermined. It is claimed by two rival governments, the People's Republic of China (the Communist mainland government) and the Republic of China, the former government of the whole shebang that fled to Taiwan in 1949 and has since become democratic. The US recognizes the PRC, but not its claim over Taiwan; even a number of states that recognize the PRC's claim on an official basis have strong military/political ties to Taiwan, such as South Korea, Singapore, and Japan. The PRC would los

      • Actually the more salient point is that it is being done while defence spending cuts are being considered. Propaganda is a common method to make sure some one else's project gets cancelled and not yours.

  • I mean, I'm assuming that it detects that dark skinned guy driving the Avocados Primeros y Armas Nucleares truck across the border from Mexico, right?
  • Summary Inaccurate (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hermitian (862901)
    There was not mention of the missile being "sub-launched." That would also be quite difficult for the US since they have no liquid fueled Submarine Launched Balistic Missles (SLBMs). They are all solid fueled.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by camperdave (969942)
      I don't think this is being developed so the US can destroy its own missiles.
  • Pink submarine (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RenHoek (101570)

    I always wondered, would a laser be defeated if you gave the missile a mirror paint coat?

    • by gadzook33 (740455)
      Sure, and for a brief moment all of the west coast and parts of Canada were treated to the greatest disco party of all time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tokul (682258)

      I always wondered, would a laser be defeated if you gave the missile a mirror paint coat?

      If you can create a perfect mirror, which can also stand temperatures of reentry into atmosphere without losing reflective quality, then yes. But we live in a real world and mirrors are not perfect and are not that tough. They don't deflect 100% of light. High power laser beam will melt mirror. Mirror might reflect laser for some really short period of time. Once mirror starts melting, it will stop deflecting laser.

    • by berwiki (989827)
      yes, if your mirror can reflect infrared/visible and ultraviolet light to a significant percent.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Depends on how good the mirror coating is. No mirror is perfect, so it will absorb some of the energy. If the coating starts to degrade, then you get a runaway reduction in effectiveness until the coating's vapourised. Whether that's on a short enough timescale for the laser to score a hit is the real question.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Probably not for long, because mirrors are far from perfect and any dust particles on the missile would also heat up rapidly and as it heats heats up the reflection ability will likely be soon lost.

    • You could accomplish more by rotating the missile in flight fast enough for no one area to heat to the point of structural failure.

      Hell, combine both methods!
    • Re:Pink submarine (Score:4, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@nosPam.gmail.com> on Friday February 12, 2010 @11:56AM (#31113828) Homepage

      I always wondered, would a laser be defeated if you gave the missile a mirror paint coat?

      Unlikely. It needs to be a front surface mirror, or else the laser will simply take effect in whatever (glass or plastic) makes up the front portion of the mirror. Even if it is a front surface mirror, such mirrors are very susceptible to scratches, dings, oxidation, and other damage that will render it vulnerable. Even minor amounts of corrosion or staining (invisible to the naked eye) can compromise the protection the mirror provides and you can't put a protective coating on the mirror to protect it from such...
       
      Not to mention that such a delicate and vulnerable coating is incompatible with the handling and operational environment of the battlefield missiles the ABL is designed to work against.
       
      And, before anyone asks, pretty much the same is true of spinning the missile. Spinning introduces a whole host of significant problems for the missile designer.

    • Re:Pink submarine (Score:4, Informative)

      by arielCo (995647) on Friday February 12, 2010 @11:59AM (#31113890)

      It's not so much about being "mirror-like" (polished), but rather about being "white" (reflective). The thing is, nothing reflects 100% of the incoming light - even the reflectivity of pure alumin[i]um's [wikipedia.org]is slightly above 90% for visible light, dips to 85% around 850 nm (near IR), and bounces back to perhaps 97% in the micrometer range (which is what some big lasers give out if I'm not mistaken).

      Still, 97% is a lot of wasted energy, and thus the need for high energies and huge lasers on ginormous shar^H^H^H^H planes. But perhaps light is perhaps the only thing that can reliably hit a speeding missile.

    • always wondered, would a laser be defeated if you gave the missile a mirror paint coat?

      Did you ever bother to look up an answer? I know people who work on weapon systems. The first thing they do is consider potential countermeasures.

      There's no such thing as a perfectly reflecting mirror. *Some* energy will be absorbed, and with no place to go, will vaporize the mirror coating, probably within a fraction of a second at these power levels.

      But if the enemy wants to coat their missile with a bright, shiny (read: easily tracked) coating, I wouldn't complain. Hell, I'd sell them the paint.

    • I can't give a perfect reply because I don't know enough about it, but what I do know, from talking to my friends who are working on related systems -- anti-missile missiles that intercept and ram the other missiles, and are currently being tested -- is that this is a cat-and-mouse game. There are lots of things that can be put into an ICBM to increase its survivability against defensive systems. Reducing the albedo of the missile is an obvious one, but difficult because it's hard to make a good mirror th
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@nosPAm.gmail.com> on Friday February 12, 2010 @11:04AM (#31113072) Homepage Journal

    The problem with the ABL is that it is a chemical laser based system and as such it is almost already obsolete in the laboratory. Chemical lasers have huge logistical problems and can only fire so many shots, and require huge space, which is why the ABL has cost a fortune and requires a 747.

    The future really belongs to the Free Electron Laser, which is making leaps and bounds. If we were to wave the mantra of intraservice rivalries around, then one should say that while the US Navy has had an awful time actually building ships, they've pretty much been whipping on the US Air Force when it comes to both aircraft and lasers and missile defense systems.

    Jefferson labs has pushed a Free Electron laser to 14kw.

    http://www.jlab.org/fel/ [jlab.org]

    And, the US Navy has Raytheon has been awarded a contract for a 100KW Free Electron Laser

    http://raytheon.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=1292&pagetemplate=release [mediaroom.com]

    And indeed, some are noting that it will soon be possible to carry these things in the nose of a fighter aircraft, not just a 747.

    • by ZombieWomble (893157) on Friday February 12, 2010 @11:23AM (#31113320)
      Chemical lasers are far from obsolete, and the place they're still useful is this exact type of continuous high-power application. Jefferson may have pushed a FEL to 14 kW, but the laser bolted to the plane delivers megawatts of continuous power.

      I have no doubt that FELs will eventually surpass chemical lasers for this sort of application, but right now they're nowhere near ready for this sort of application. And if you think back the 15 years or so to when this project was conceived, they were even less ready. I'm sure the upgrade to FELs will come along sooner or later, but choosing them for the first-generation design would probably have delayed this project quite a considerable amount.

    • by afidel (530433)
      14kW is two orders of magnitude too small, and you know it. Even 100kW is more than an order of magnitude too small.
    • by salesgeek (263995)

      they've pretty much been whipping on the US Air Force when it comes to both aircraft and lasers and missile defense systems.

      This has been going on since the 1950s.

      Navy: F-8 Crusader. Air Force: F-100, F-101, etc...
      Navy: F-4 Phantom II Air Force: F-101, F-105 - Result: AF forced to buy Navy planes.
      Navy: A-4 and A-7. Air Force: THUNDERCHIEF! followed by A-7 (another AF forced to buy Navy planes)
      Navy: Standard Missile (Ground to air) Air Force: Bunch of crap. Nike, Bomarc, etc...
      Navy: Sparrow AAM Air Force

    • Umm, and where will those 100kW come from?
      Certainly not from any batteries in that jet. Or else it will become so sluggish that it either has to carry huge engines, and become a bomber, or will be shot down by everything that now is quicker.

      • by tjstork (137384)

        Certainly not from any batteries in that jet

        The engine. Takes a lot of energy to fly at Mach 1.5, you know. In fact, derivatives of jet engines are essentially how gas turbine power plants operate. On hot day, when the utility needs peak power, they turn on the jets, literally, and that's how most people get electricity above and beyond baseline coal and nuclear.

    • by belthize (990217)

      I think obsolete is way to strong a term since the real problem at this point is targetting and tracking. Once you have those problems solved it's really immaterial what flavor laser is being used.

      Once there's a suitable FEL system slot it into place.

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday February 12, 2010 @11:19AM (#31113272) Homepage

    is why people get so concerned about "wasting money" trying to develop a system that could make a significant amount of nuclear weapons functionally obsolete. Money spent on the missile defense systems is not even remotely analogous to the waste like when some senator tries to create 10k new jobs by ramming 500 new planes down the Air Force's throat or something like that. Most of it is trial and error, basic science and engineering, trying to figure out how to defeat a threat that could, in one blow, murder millions of Americans.

    MAD got us to this point, but the knowledge that the US could, in 20 years, not only knock out all of your incoming warheads, but unleash its own reprisal would effectively end the threat of a large scale nuclear conflict between state actors. A successful missile defense system would mean that the enemy would have to use sneakier, harder tricks like slipping nukes into cargo containers. For state actors, that's a non-starter unless they get really lucky or have a death wish like the Iranian ruling class seems to have with their badly veiled threats against at least one nuclear power (Israel).

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Along those lines I would argue that a solution is to ban nuclear weapons development (and redevelopment) point blank but permit nuclear countermeasure development. Knowing that they can't boost their capacity for offense any more, a countermeasure arms race will ensue amounst the nuke-holding powers until the entire world's nuclear arsenal is literally useless. It can then be decommissioned.

      • Along those lines I would argue that a solution is to ban nuclear weapons development (and redevelopment) point blank but permit nuclear countermeasure development. Knowing that they can't boost their capacity for offense any more, a countermeasure arms race will ensue amounst the nuke-holding powers until the entire world's nuclear arsenal is literally useless. It can then be decommissioned.

        And this would work because, as we all know, no-one would ever ignore solemn treaty obligations and develop nuclear w

    • by tmosley (996283)
      If you make nuclear weapons obsolete, you reopen the door to global total war that was closed at Nagasaki. If nukes can't penetrate the defenses of warring nations, they will be free to send armies across their borders.

      Or did you think the world suddenly became more civilized after WWII ended?
    • by S77IM (1371931)

      Why do we worry about missiles when it is so easy to smuggle nuclear weapons into the US inside of drug shipments? The enemy wouldn't even need to be a suicide bomber. They could just rent an apartment, put the thing on a 3-week timer, and leave the country. This is not a problem that can be solved by better lasers.

        -- 77IM

  • $300 billion and counting. We could probably buy all the enemy's missiles at this rate.
  • It's pretty tough to get a missile to arrive at the exact place and time that a weapon is firing at.

  • Video or it didn't happen.
  • So when Russia starts firing nukes at the US, we get nukes being destroyed. Directly over us. Brilliant.
    • Re:Great. (Score:5, Informative)

      by goodmanj (234846) on Friday February 12, 2010 @02:23PM (#31116168)

      An impressive amount of wrong in a one-line post.

      1) This is a boost-phase defense, so it works when the missile is over the hostile country, not over the U.S.
      2) Because of Russia's size, we probably won't be able to use this weapon against them unless they let us fly our airborne laser over their country, which is unlikely. This is for defending against launches by smaller countries.
      3) It's pretty much impossible to cause a nuke to detonate by firing a weapon at it.
      4) Debris from a shot-down nuke may be unhealthy if it lands on your house, but it's a whole lot better than vaporizing Manhattan.

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