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New Laser Makes Pirates Wish They Wore Eye-Patches 645

Posted by samzenpus
from the scuttle-the-lens dept.
vieux schnock writes "The New Scientist has an article about a new laser developed by a company in Farnborough, UK, that aims to deter modern high-seas pirates. Devised as a 'warning shot' to 'distract suspected pirates rather than harm them,' the meter-wide beam can scan the pirates' 6-metre skiffs and make it difficult for them to aim their AK-47 or rocket-propelled grenades at the ship."
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New Laser Makes Pirates Wish They Wore Eye-Patches

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  • by vakuona (788200) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:12PM (#34816090)
    in 3...2...1
  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:14PM (#34816102) Journal

    Why don't they just put a sniper or two as look out on these cargo ships? Any small boat that approaches without radio, and they have arms, you start picking them off. I'm pretty sure that my idea will be more effective at preventing piracy on the high seas. Lots of ex-military guys who would be qualified.

    • by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:17PM (#34816136) Journal

      It's actually quite difficult to snipe from a moving ship.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:24PM (#34816212)

        It's actually quite difficult to snipe from a moving ship.

        That's non-sense. These pirate boats are six meters per TFA. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.

        • by Kitkoan (1719118)
          Yeah, but can you fit 4 to 6 pirates armed [wikipedia.org] with weapons like AKM assault rifles, RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and semi-automatic pistols on your 2 meter ship? I would be worried of the RPG maybe tipping a boat that small when fired.
        • by ae1294 (1547521)

          It's actually quite difficult to snipe from a moving ship.

          That's non-sense. These pirate boats are six meters per TFA. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.

          Wow unsubstantiated teenage boasting! Someone get this guy a squadron of x-wings!

      • by c6gunner (950153) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:42PM (#34816412)

        It's actually quite difficult to snipe from a moving ship.

        If by "ship" you mean "6 foot inflatable dingy", then yeah, it is. If, on the other hand, by "ship" you mean "cargo-hauler the size of several football fields" then no, it's not.

        • It's actually quite difficult to snipe from a moving ship.

          If by "ship" you mean "6 foot inflatable dingy", then yeah, it is. If, on the other hand, by "ship" you mean "cargo-hauler the size of several football fields" then no, it's not.

          Agreed. Remember the incident where the captain was held hostage by 3 pirates in a covered life raft, only to be saved by 3 simultaneous sniper shots from Navy Seals on a ship?

        • And who cares about sniping anyway? "Oh, no! I was aiming for the first pirate, but accidentally drilled a hole in the guy next to him. We are doomed!" If they haven't actually boarded your ship and taken hostages yet, I see no moral or logistical problem in opening up a chain gun on them.

      • by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval@nospAM.gmail.com> on Sunday January 09, 2011 @07:25PM (#34818156) Journal

        Armed ships are forbidden by treaty unless the weapons are controlled by a countries military who happens to be in good standing with the rest of the world community, i.e. they don't commit piracy.

        There are weapons systems where it would be trivial to turn that boat to scrap from 1000 yards and it's cheap to run. It's not person to person sniping but it's close enough. I would prefer a system such as the one mentioned as it temporarily blinds them but I'd want the lethal system run by a competent military to back it up when the thieves figure out that device won't aim to more than one place at a time.

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:22PM (#34816200) Journal

      Because you generally leave killing as a last resort. If you use the laser and they keep coming with hostile intent, then you break out the sniper rifle.

      • Why?

        Why not start at the "last resort" when you may never reach the "last resort" if you do incremental aggressive resposnes? Especially in light of the fact that you may end up "dead" yourself taking that approach.

        You see, the difference between a good guy and a bad guy is fairly simple, a bad guy has bad intentions the whole time, a good guy does not. After that, it doesn't matter. If anyone means me ill will, they better be sure of it, because I'm not incrementally going to kick their ass, I'm gonna do i

    • Will not work (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:23PM (#34816208)
      This will not work because:
      • Have you ever considered the difficulty of using, say, an Armalite on the bridge of a cargo ship? Last time I checked, snipers did not use moving platforms, or aim at rapidly moving targets . Therefore, range would be greatly reduced.
      • It could be several seconds, or even tens of seconds, between clear shots. So: you wound one pirate. The others start firing RPGs and AK-47s. These do not need to be accurate.
      • If pirates assume armed response, they will start shooting the moment they come within range. Therefore, casualties will mount.

      Bottom line: I suggest before coming up with idiotic suggestions, you actually google a bit of naval history. (And yes, I did do a feasibility study on missile attack defenses based on cannon, not rifles, and even they are not a very good defense.)

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        It could be several seconds, or even tens of seconds, between clear shots. So: you wound one pirate. The others start firing RPGs and AK-47s. These do not need to be accurate.

        That's why you forget sniping and just install a few 7.62mm miniguns or .50-caliber machineguns.

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Just get a phalanx system installed. End of problem.

          • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:36PM (#34816348) Journal
            So, 1.5 million a pop(not counting the necessary radar, integration, staffing, and maintenance), per turret(larger ships would almost certainly need more than one, to prevent attacks on their blind spots), to deal with a problem that affects under 1% of the ships passing through that area?

            I'm fairly sure that that sound I hear in the distance is the actuaries at Lloyds laughing through their stiff upper lips...
            • by Joce640k (829181)

              1.5 million is about what a big ship spends on fuel per journey.

      • Cargo ships are large stable platforms.

        Sniper rounds have much better range then 7.52x39 (AK rounds).

        Moving targets are a challenge but not an insurmountable one.

        The main problem with putting snipers on cargo ships is lack of snipers.

        I suggest machine guns instead.

        They still have the range to reach out and touch someone before they can shoot back effectively.

        Plus they can take out the whole boat full of pirates, or at least leave them to die in a disabled boat..

        Regarding your suggestion: Iron

        • by Pharmboy (216950)

          I think the point that is being missed (although I thought it was obvious) is that the moment you put a bullet in one of the guys on the boat, they are going to turn away. They will have no idea how many people have guns on the cargo ship, they will only know that they are now vulnerable. Pirates are cowards, they aren't wanting to get in a gun fight, they want to be the only ones with the guns during the fight. These Somalian pirates are not military trained, hell, most are likely not even literate, and

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        Have you ever considered the difficulty of using, say, an Armalite on the bridge of a cargo ship?

        Yes I have, it would be quite easy to crank off shots. We aren't talking about a crab boat, these are huge, stable platforms that don't pitch and sway nearly as much as you might think.

        So: you wound one pirate. The others start firing RPGs and AK-47s. These do not need to be accurate.

        And they won't be accurate, because their TINY craft will be pitching back and forth. Particularly if they are stupid enough to

    • So your sniper is asleep when they take the boat. Finding an armed man, they kill everyone onboard, and take the high quality rifle to replace their 40 year old barely functional AK knockoffs.

      So now you need 24/7 snipers. Say 8 hour shifts, and now you have three more crew than you used to. That's roughly doubling the compliment. That ain't cheap.

      I'm not saying I agree with this logic, but that's the logic.

    • by durrr (1316311)
      Why don't they just put a dial going up to 11 on the laser?
    • by fantomas (94850) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:44PM (#34816432)

      Cost and international treaties are two big reasons why merchant ships aren't armed. If you want military on board with weapons, well a 24/7 hour crew is going to cost a fair bit of money. Merchant shipping tries to cut costs as much as possible.And you aren't just going to put a crate of machine guns and sniper rifles on board and hope that the ship's cook or the 18 year trainee engineer on a cruise ship are going to know how to operate them correctly in an emergency situation, probably more likely to end up hurting themselves or the passengers than anybody else.

      Plus international treaties come into play. It's all well and good suggesting you're going to mount miniguns etc or even just AK47s on your ship but a lot of countries aren't too happy about armed merchant ships turning up in their harbours. Can't imagine American authorities would be too happy about accepting an Iranian ship sailing into New York with a crew of marines on board manning deck mounted rapid fire machine guns.

  • Foiled (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Umuri (897961)

    This is then foiled when pirates spend $10-20 on a pair of tinted glasses that filter out red light.
    I've always thought lasers, while useful, are a very bad countermeasure to human eyesight, being as they are very narrow spectrum.

    Next!

    • This is then foiled when pirates spend $10-20 on a pair of tinted glasses that filter out red light.

      Except that it's a green laser. If they can find a pair of sunglasses that filters out the right frequency of green light without filtering out the rest of the light they'll still need to see and operate, then that could be a countermeasure. At the least it would force them to change their mode of operations somewhat.

    • by denzacar (181829) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:29PM (#34816248) Journal

      From TFA:

      "Sunglasses wouldn't help," he says – in fact, wearing them would only exacerbate the effect. That's because the glasses would not affect the green laser light – chosen because that colour is particularly irritating – but the laser would appear even brighter contrasted against the darkened background.

      I'm guessing they think that people who can put their hands on automatic weapons and RPGs, sales and purchasing of which is regulated/prohibited in most of the world - won't be able to put their hands on some $25 protective glasses [dragonlasers.com] sales and purchasing of which is not regulated/prohibited anywhere in the world.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:49PM (#34816474) Journal
        More to the point, laser power levels are rather tricky because anything on the low end can be blocked with relatively cheap optical safety hardware which(while it probably isn't currently available at Arms 'r Us' Mogadishu branch it is quite easily and legitimately available for not much money) and anything on the high end, high enough to avoid such cheap and simple countermeasures, will blind unprotected human targets in moments. Given the, no doubt excellent, quality of care for burn victims and the blind in the area, that may actually be less humane than a bullet to something vital.

        Since dealing with pirates is not considered "war", the fact that using weapons designed for blinding is a war crime probably won't be an issue(in the same way that cops can use chemical weapons, even though soldiers can't); but any laser powerful enough to discourage all but serious n00b pirates is really not a nice device. Blinding, burns, the whole deal. If you are willing to blind and burn, you might as well skip the pricey, unproven wiz-bang shit and just use lethal weapons.
        • by marcansoft (727665) <hector@ma r c a nsoft.com> on Sunday January 09, 2011 @05:14PM (#34817242) Homepage

          To throw some numbers in: The glasses that the GP linked to are OD 4 for 532nm light (i.e. green Nd:YAG lasers, which are basically guaranteed to be the type used by this weapon). That means they block 99.99% of the beam at that wavelength. That's quickly going to turn any beam designed to be borderline non-permanently-damaging into barely a bother.

          In fact, I just ran a quick test. I have a 30mW green pointer, which is definitely unsafe for direct eye exposure. I expanded the beam with a lens to about a 20cm radius, which is eye-safe at this power level. Looked at it thought my glasses (I actually have that same model), and it was just a very slight orange glow, about on par with an indicator LED. Took the goggles off and it was very annoying (I had an afterimage for a few minutes). I imagine the laser weapon will be closer to the damage threshold than my quick test, but still, the glasses will totally destroy any effect unless the laser runs at power levels much higher than eye-safe ones.

          Or, testing with the (definitely eye unsafe) collimated 30mW, through the glasses, onto a wall: the green dot is barely visible. I'm going going to try pointing it into my eye (see below), but that mount of light is not going to bother anyone.

          Note for anyone wanting to try this: don't unless you really know what you're doing. In particular, looking into the bare beam with glasses on is a very bad idea. You probably won't damage your eyes with the green light, but these cheap chinese pointers tend to lack IR filters, and that can screw you since the glasses won't block IR (worse, your blink response won't trigger and you'll slowly cook your retina). In fact, I can see a slight deep red glow around the projected green dot going through the glasses, which indicates there's a considerable amount of leaked IR, probably well above the damage threshold (if you can see IR, there's a lot of it).

    • by westlake (615356)

      This is then foiled when pirates spend $10-20 on a pair of tinted glasses that filter out red light.

      The red [or green] light from a military-grade laser weapon? That just might cost you more than $20.

  • by line-bundle (235965) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:14PM (#34816116) Homepage Journal

    with remaining eye.

  • Seriously.

    Shoot them and they will not bother anybody again.

  • related? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jeek Elemental (976426) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:18PM (#34816154)

    Import of mirrors and mirror related paraphernalia spiked sharply in Somalia, leaving traders baffled.

  • by theskunkmonkey (839144) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:19PM (#34816160) Homepage

    > meter-wide bean

    That's a huge bean!

    • by SeaFox (739806)

      meter-wide bean

      That's a huge bean!

      This UK company's plans must be to combat pirates with the Creature from the Black Legume.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:30PM (#34816262)
    I thought there was some international weapons treaty that said developing laser weapons with intent to blind is a no-no (burning enemies to death is okay).
  • It will not be long before pirates will implement their own counter measures. In related news, the price of mirrors has gone up in the last 2 months...

    • by jack2000 (1178961)
      Why lasers you can get one of those pain beams [wikipedia.org], a digital system can auto aim the thing at the approaching thing, you also crank the power up to eleven and fry the damn fuckers.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:44PM (#34816426) Journal
    The root cause of the problem is that, most port authorities and countries prohibit a merchant marine ship from having arms on board. So cargo ship with machine guns would not be permitted to dock on most harbors and ports in the world. That is the reason for these ships from being armed. These guys are coming up with stupid weapons like water cannons, beamed sound waves, and now lasers, because they would not be called "arms" by the ports.

    Simpler solution would be to have a ship or a platform offshore, just on the international waters as close to the port as possible to act as an armory. Cargo ships check in their weapons into the armory, sail into the port, unload, reload, return, pick up their weapons and go their way. Between the armory and the port, a distance of about 10 or 20 miles, the Navy or the Coast Guard of the country should provide escort and patrol services with destroyers and cutters.

    That would be a sane and cheap solution understandable to one and all. All the news reports about gizmos like laser beams really have an entirely different purpose. Some company somewhere making a key component of such a system is looking for investment or begging to be sold out. The PR firms step in, come up with such "news" stories and create some media interest. Once the company got bought out or got its investment goals met, these news reports also would melt away like fog.

    • by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @04:04PM (#34816626) Homepage

      I agree - the solution to pirates isn't lasers/etc, but to make merchant ships something other than sitting ducks.

      There are also other options. Most piracy occurs in certain regions - just charge a tariff for safe passage through those regions, and patrol them with naval vessels. Or, just organize convoys. We're not dealing with serious adversaries here - one coast guard cutter or destroyer will be more than adequate to escort 50 merchant ships/etc. You just need to price the protective services so that they're self-funding, plus/minus whatever incentives/penalties you want to impose on the route. Plus, it is probably good practice for the escorts anyway - it isn't like they just sit in dock all year when there isn't a war going on.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday January 09, 2011 @06:26PM (#34817760) Homepage Journal

      Simpler solution would be to have a ship or a platform offshore, just on the international waters as close to the port as possible to act as an armory.

      I don't claim to be an expert, but it's my understanding that most merchant shipping runs on pretty thin margins, and port fees are already a major expense. Who would pay for this undoubtedly expensive setup?

  • Why in the world would I want to 'deter' someone from pointing AK-47s or RPGs at my ship? If I actually thought I was in danger of being overtaken by a pirate ship with those weapons I'd much rather just blow them out of the water and be done with another ship of vermin. This article's intro really has me perplexed. Do I want to help conspirators make better decisions, or protect my crew that I am on the high seas with for eternity by cleansing the waters of such riff raff with a real weapon like AK47s a
  • by jovius (974690) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @04:12PM (#34816702)
    Other side of the story is that for example on the Somalian waters the international navy basically gives cover to illegal fishers and waste dumping passers-by. Lasers and other kinds of experimental weapons can also be tested to real live subjects (and later deployed back in the home countries). Of course piracy is a profitable business too, but the moral baseline here is really fluid.
    • Other side of the story is that for example on the Somalian waters the international navy basically gives cover to illegal fishers...

      Unfortunately most of those fishing boats are technically legal, having purchased licenses from the UN-recognized government (which controls no territory outside a few blocks in Mogadishu). The previous Islamic Courts government had the piracy problem under control, but the US and the EU hired the Ethiopians to knock it over, replacing it with the current mess.

  • by krygny (473134) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @07:20PM (#34818122)

    Why are we talking about non-lethal defensive measures? These people aren't peaceful protesters who are getting a little out of hand. They are predatory, blood-thirsty profiteers.

    What's wrong with .50 BMG M2 machine guns? Effective range, 2000 M.

  • by dirkdodgers (1642627) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @07:26PM (#34818160)

    Are you listening Obama? Do you care about jobs?

    Then authorize Blackwater (Xe) and Dynacorp to go after these scallywags in exchange for bounties put up by shipping companies. Pay out $100,000 an ear.

    It will stimulate the economy, create jobs, and provide gainful employment for ex-military facing challenges reintegrating into the domestic laborforce. I see no downsides. It will cost the taxpayers nothing.

    Then the next time these pirates approach a merchant vessel, they'll see a gunboat coming around the stern of the ship flying a US flag and ready to kick ass and take names.

    It will be the economic gift that keeps giving. Just wait until the movies start to come out. "Pirate Hunter", "Pirate Hunter 2: With a Vengeance", "Rambo V: Arrrr!". America could become known worldwide as the finest mercenary exporting nation since the middle ages.

    • by mjwx (966435)

      Then authorize Blackwater (Xe) and Dynacorp to go after these scallywags in exchange for bounties put up by shipping companies.

      I gather you know nothing about the Somali pirates or letters of marque.

      Letters of marque were issued not because people were enemies but because their ships and cargo were so valuable. Governments issued letters of Marque on pirates and nations they were at war with precisely because building a new ship was so expensive, they could get a privateer to do the dirty work and get a sh

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