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Science Technology

Warfare at the Speed of Light 561

Posted by michael
from the also-good-for-making-popcorn dept.
unassimilatible writes "From the They Said It Couldn't Be Done Dept., the Oakland Tribune reports that the Lawrence Livermore Labratory is ensuring that the Pentagon, inside of a decade, could be armed with a beam weapon that is near-instantaneous, gravity-free and truly surgical, focusing to such hair-splitting accuracy that it could avoid civilians while predetonating munitions miles away - perhaps someday even being mounted on Humvees."
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Warfare at the Speed of Light

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  • Say again? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lord Grey (463613) * on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:04PM (#7264319)
    ... experts say the Defense Department has no coherent plan for speed-of-light weapons research ...
    "No coherent plan" to use lasers in warfare? Did anyone else find this quote amazingly funny?
    • Heh. Maybe their beam weapons will shoot incoherent light. Of course, I haven't seen a coherent plan out of the military since we started in Iraq, so maybe its just a sign of the times.
    • by Davak (526912) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:13PM (#7264430) Homepage
      "We've made a quantum leap here," said Randy Buff, solid-state laser program manager for the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command. "We're anxious to get out there and do something."

      Translation: We are anxious to get out there and blast somebody.
      • by henrygb (668225) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:21PM (#7264510)
        Is a quantum leap the smallest possible discrete change?

        Would a gravity-free weapon (even with light) defy General Relativity?

        Will the enemy start using mirrors?

        • Re:Quantum Leap (Score:3, Informative)

          Would a gravity-free weapon (even with light) defy General Relativity?

          Gravity is the curving of space-time and light travels through space-time - curved or not.

          If space-time is curved, then light travels a curved path.

          The entire near-instantaneous, gravity-free line is fluff. You can't send a beam faster than light and as long as the beam has momentum (which light does) then it will feel the effects of gravity..

          Will the enemy start using mirrors?

          It depends on the frequency. Regular mirrors work for
          • Re:Quantum Leap (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Vess V. (310830) on Monday October 20, 2003 @08:40PM (#7266223) Homepage
            Come on, is this an article about optics or military equipment? For all conventional intents and purposes, "near-instantaneous" is correct and "gravity-free" almost so. And you know what? In four words, the article has thoroughly described this system's advantages over other weapons.

            Of course, you are probably being facetious and my extreme boredom has driven me to type this reply.
    • coherent plan

      wait. that means that they plan on using them soon.

    • Coherent. Does that mean it can talk?
    • by Davak (526912) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:25PM (#7264544) Homepage
      Moreover, all laser guns will, for the forseeable future, remain fair-weather weapons. Airborne particles and vapor diffuse the beam and cut its range enormously. Smart adversaries will attack under cover of smoke or inclement weather.

      "In the first order, lasers are not going to work on bad days," Campbell said. "They're just not."


      Dear Mr. Rumsfield:

      Please schedule all future wars in excellent weather. It's great for the morale of our troops and we get to use our new laser toys.

      Thanks.

      G.W. Bush
      • And forget about those wars in LA and Seattle. between polution and rain, they'd be useless.

        Work great in the middle east, though.
      • That's why they are putting one in a 747, it can fly above the weather.
      • so next time the US fancies a drive in its unilateral-invasion-mobile, instead of "we have to attack before the summer so it isn't too hot"..... "we have to attack before before this afternoon so it isn't too cloudy."

        soon it will be so easy to kill people without collateral damage that it will be a case of "why not?" instead of "why?"
    • Wrong! (Score:3, Informative)

      by s20451 (410424)
      "No coherent plan" to use lasers in warfare?

      Wrong, the DOD already uses laser rangefinders, laser-guided bombs, ring-laser gyros in submarines ...

      Most likely they mean use of lasers as weapons, and it would be nice if it stayed that way. The inventor of the laser was recently quoted as saying that in spite of seeming like a death ray, he was unaware of any instance in which a laser had directly killed anyone, even by accident.
    • by Some Bitch (645438) on Monday October 20, 2003 @06:17PM (#7265070)
      Old laser scientists never die, they just become incoherent :)
  • by niko9 (315647) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:04PM (#7264323)
    Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaser

    --
  • God says... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bakobull (301976) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:05PM (#7264335)
    Kent, Stop playing with yourself.
    • Damn. Beat me to the punch. [imdb.com]

      Warning... link gives away the source of the quote.

      Dr. Dodd: Why is that toy on your head?
      Chris Knight: Because if I wear it anywhere else it chafes.

      Davak

  • Laslo Buddy, I failed! But I passed! Do you want to see a demonstration of gravity?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:06PM (#7264351)
    Hold Your Fire!

    Too Late!

    You Vaporized Kenny! You Bastard!
  • can you point it at a mildly victorian house from on board a jet fighter and fill the house with popcorn?
  • ... it could avoid civilians while predetonating munitions miles away...

    So it can avoid civilians who are miles away from the munitions? Even the few dumb bombs dropped on Iraq avoided most citizens in Kuwait...
    • by donutz (195717) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:24PM (#7264543) Homepage Journal
      "... it could avoid civilians while predetonating munitions miles away..."

      So it can avoid civilians who are miles away from the munitions? Even the few dumb bombs dropped on Iraq avoided most citizens in Kuwait...


      I think (that you know) that it means munitions miles away from the LASER could be predetonated (pre- as in before the enemy sends them our way).

      But the real question here is how whether they're implying that the civilians could be detonated too, separately without the munitions, now that we'll have got a big friggin' laser gun...
  • Thinkgeek (Score:4, Funny)

    by mgcsinc (681597) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:07PM (#7264359)
    The evoloution of Thinkgeek's line of optical toys: 1. Red Lasar 2. Green Lasar 3. Lasar capable of pre-detonating munitions from miles away. (But no one will buy it because it is neither green nor capable of being seen in the air.)
  • Oh great (Score:4, Funny)

    by MagicM (85041) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:07PM (#7264363)
    "We're anxious to get out there and do something."

    Always reassuring when someone in the US Army makes such a statement...
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:09PM (#7264376)
    A laser arms race already is under way, chiefly in California.

    Wow, Goverminator hasn't been elected for 2 weeks and Skynet is already flexing its muscles ...
    • Wow, Goverminator hasn't been elected for 2 weeks and Skynet is already flexing its muscles

      Arnie finally gets that "Phased Plasma Rifle in the 40-Watt Range" he wanted in T1, just in time to clean up Sacramento...

  • The Crossbow Project. There's no defense like a good offense!

    • "It's like shooting ducks in a barrel."

      "A big mirror makes a big beam."

      "Revenge. It's a moral imperative."

      "Think before you ask these questions, Mitch. 20 points higher than me, and he thinks a big guy like that can wear his clothes?"

      "Jesus? Hello, Jesus? He hung up."

      "Great, now if we can just keep it from exploding!"

      "But first, I'd like to take this opportunity to complement you on your fashion sense; particularly, your slippers."

      "Are you Chris Knight?" "I hope so; I'm wearing his underwear."

      "Woul
  • They had a phaser on star trek like forever ago.

    Jeez get creative U.S. Military
    • The laser battlefield will be largely invisible. Targets will explode, break apart in midair or burst into flame without apparent cause.

      The phasers on Star Trek were obviously fake... because you could see the phaser beam.

      This is obviously real-life... because the government says so.

      But really... how odd would it be for a soldier to be in a foxhole and suddenly his friend next to him starts melting.

      Like my kid says... "Silent but deadly"

    • I know this is meant to be a joke but the actual technology involved in deploying a battlefield laser is immense. Here in the lab we've been working on civilian grade laser weapons (obviously at much lower power than the military; they are purely non lethal) and there are several major obsticals.

      The main problem is that any reflecting surface can act as a mirror, meaning that you are constantly at risk of the laser beam bouncing back and obliterating you. What is worse is that if the surface is concave
      • This would not look good for the US government if it started turning enemy cities into poisonous wastegrounds with a supposedly surgical weapon.

        No problem there, just manipulate the media so that they say what you want to say and 'Bingo,' problem solved.

        BTM

      • The main problem is that any reflecting surface can act as a mirror, meaning that you are constantly at risk of the laser beam bouncing back and obliterating you.

        I am guessing that "lasers of mass destruction" would operate in the ultraviolet. There aren't many materials that will reflect ultraviolet light back at you. At best it might glance off a mirror if it hits at a shallow enough angle.
      • by zCyl (14362) on Monday October 20, 2003 @07:22PM (#7265722)
        you are constantly at risk of the laser beam bouncing back and obliterating you.

        If you stand next to a solid surface, like a tank, and fire a conventional automatic weapon at it, you had better be wearing some serious bullet proof armor.

        The main problem is that any reflecting surface can act as a mirror

        Mirrors do a great job of reflecting low power light. Put a sufficiently high powered pulse laser on the scene, and the behavior of reflective surfaces becomes "non-linear" in the sense that it will simply burn through them.

        and turned the h20 into h202 which is deadly hydrogen peroxide

        Which is regularly used as a mouth wash, and easily noticeable because it tastes like crap and fizzes in your mouth.

  • by Kufat (563166)
    It's pretty funny that in the 50's, SF writers thought we'd have weapons like this and things such as moon bases by about 1980, but they also that there would be superpowerful computers...with vacuum tubes.
    • I'm reading the Foundation series by Issac Asimov.

      I want my personal force shield generator, with an atomic power source the size of a walnut. And some lead lined underwear, please.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:10PM (#7264397)
    Leaving aside the technical issues of "can you do it," there are the political and moral issues of "should you do it." Precision guided, 100% accuracy is fine until you target the wrong point. The notion that we can have zero collateral damage assumes that we can distinguish between combatants vs. innocents and allies with high accuracy.

    This invention might lower the tragedies of war if we have the intell to discriminate accurately. It might also increase collateral damage/friendly fire if the device inspires overconfidence in those who press the trigger.
    • What? Hubris could never happen to us....

      This reminds me of Reason (the depleted uranium chain-gun) in Snow Crash. The major problem with weapons such as Reason is the sense of invincibility they induce in their possessors (this is approximately what Stephenson said in the novel). This invincibility may be as hazardous to the ones possessing the weapons or technology (and to those around them) as to others on the potential receiving end. If all of the people in the chain of command using the weapon have s
    • by reallocate (142797) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:37PM (#7264686)
      Absent human intent and use, technology stays on the shelf. Getting on a moral high horse about new weaponry will not stop people from deciding to war on each other, It will only ensure that they use more primitivw weapons.

      War won't diappear if we're afraid to use new tools. People will throw rocks at each other if they have nothing else.
    • This invention might lower the tragedies of war if we have the intell to discriminate accurately. It might also increase collateral damage/friendly fire if the device inspires overconfidence in those who press the trigger.

      The military is heavily funding research into what they call "total battlefield awareness" which can be thought of as identifing every object in the battlespace. I think the idea behind this article is that if that research goes well, and the laser research goes well then we might fina

    • It might also increase collateral damage/friendly fire if the device inspires overconfidence in those who press the trigger.

      Time to order all those new highly polished chrome tanks...

  • by tessaiga (697968) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:11PM (#7264404)
    Conspiracy theorests trade tin-foil hats for head-mounted mirrors.
  • by rf0 (159958)
    Whats to stop me put up a load of mirrors around the items I want to protect?

    Rus
    • the mirror surface would burn up very quickly still. this is something brought up on slashdot every time there are these laser weapons mentioned.

      anyways.. practicality is what's keeping it at bay.
  • Weapon? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zoloto (586738) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:12PM (#7264424)
    From the article:
    "What we're building," Yamamoto explains, "is a laser weapon."


    And yet it can't be used defensively?
    How about the following quotes?
    "What we're building... Is a laser for cutting through mountians (roads, mines etc.)"
    "What we're building... is a laser to defend our skies, country against missles"
    "What we're building... is a laser to cut underground bunkers on the moon"
    "What we're building... a giant popcorn popper"

    This is kind of sad, when we just exploit technology with weapons in the forefront of our minds and not research or domestic uses! I mean I know they're from the DoD, but with war on their minds, goodness knows what else they're up to.
    • Re:Weapon? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by skintigh2 (456496)
      I'm sure there must be a civil use for such a laser, but I can't think of one.

      Using a laser as a rock drill is probably the least efficient method of drilling possible, it would make poisonous fumes, and those fumes would block the laser beam.

      As for missiles, if the missle is shiney the laser will be reflected. I think.

      The moon idea might work... maybe the fumes would disperse faster in zero atmosphere, and it might be cheaper than sending equipment.

      I would guess a high power laser would vaporize a ker
    • Re:Weapon? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Brendan Byrd (105387)
      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the weapon that the Battlecruisers use in StarCraft (humans) called a "Yamamoto Cannon"?

      Oh, wait...it's a "Yamato Cannon". Fine, so I'm missing two letters.
  • BZZT! ANNT! WRONG! (Score:2, Informative)

    by dh003i (203189)
    gravity-free

    Just as gravity is not free of the limitation that nothing may travel faster than the speed of light, nor is light free of the effects of gravity. The path light travels is affected by gravity; indeed, light can be completely trapped by a black hole.
    • While you are technically correct, the effect of gravity for targeting can essentially be ignored. If we were planning on using the weapon around a much larger body I am sure you would have to take this into consideration.

      Anyone know a mass and distance you would need for the targeting to be off a foot?
    • by Moblaster (521614)
      Since we are nowhere near a black hole, the light beams are going to be virtually straight for all intents and purposes. The most a beam of light would ever travel across land is about 100 KM (to the horizon) or a few KM if shot at an airborne target. Given that light would typically travel 1/3000 to 1/1000 of a second (300,000KM/sec), and would only accelerate downward under the force of gravity at a maximum of approximately 10M/second, you are talking total vertical displacement of about 1.5 to 4 millimet
    • BZZT

      Doesnt matter seeing as a Laser will travel back along the exact same geodesic as the light used to sight it. In other words you point it at what you see and it hits it.
  • Humvees? (Score:2, Funny)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365)
    someday even being mounted on Humvees."
    Forget humvees! I want friggin' sharks with friggin' lasers mounted on their heads!
    • Shark?
      Wouldn't a dolphin be a better choice?
      People are afraid of sharks, it would be shoot.
      But imagine someone, like an enemy child or soldier seeing that dolphin.
      "Aww, what a cute fish! Come here, fishie. *ZAP!*"

      And, yes, I do know dolphins aren't fish, but the person being zapped apparently didn't.
      This should be obvious, but since this is slashdot I make sure to point it out so that I don't get a million "Youre stuppid! Dlopings arent not fish!" messages. ^_^

      And, yes, I'm sarcastic and cynical. ^_^
  • ...use the same bluff the second time around someone at the Pentagon has decided to play the Star Wars Manuever again.

    exp(pi*sqrt(163))'s law dictates that you can successfully use a bluff with a frequency that is inversely proportion to the memory length of your intended audience.

  • Surgical? (Score:4, Funny)

    by GlassHeart (579618) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:17PM (#7264474) Journal
    ...truly surgical, focusing to such hair-splitting accuracy that it could avoid civilians while predetonating munitions miles away

    But would the detonating munitions know to avoid civilians as well?

  • Accuracy is for salesmen and bean counters. In the field, it's smarts that count.

    The USAF bombed a Red Cross compound in Afghanistan. Twice. Poor intelligence meant that US missiles hit a Chinese embassy in the Balkans. Friendly fire incidents are far too common.

    Pinpoint precision is only half the equation.
  • What is stopping the "other side" from coating their shells with a reflective surface? Especially if only one particular wavelength is used by the military, it should be straightforward to create a coating that'll effectively reflect close to 100% of the LASER.

    Think about the goggles scientists wear in high-power laser labs. You can see fine through them, except the one wavelength their laser works at...

    Ponxx

    PS yes, I RTFA, but AFAIK there is no real problem creating materials reflecting IR. If you can a
    • by Nurf (11774) *
      What is stopping the "other side" from coating their shells with a reflective surface? Especially if only one particular wavelength is used by the military, it should be straightforward to create a coating that'll effectively reflect close to 100% of the LASER.

      The simple answer is "dust". The laser has very high energy. It hits the mirrored surface. The dust on the surface absorbs a large amount of energy very quickly. It essentially explodes, pitting the mirror surface. At this point, your mirror isn't
  • Well, on the scale we're looking at they're relatively gravity free (as compared to say, bullets). Nope, couldn't think of something more useful to spend money on, not like you know, feeding the hungry, vaccinations, coherent plans on vaccine distribuation in case of the rather unlikely event of a bioterrorist attack. Heck, we could you know, be building schools and housing for the poor, could be dropping money to reinforce the government in Afghanistan and to promote overall stability in the region (becaus
  • by wfrp01 (82831) on Monday October 20, 2003 @05:28PM (#7264586) Journal
    International treaty forbids the use of lasers for blinding people. But there is no legal ban on striking humans

    You know, if you take a laser pointer, and you point it at a fluffy poodle being walked by a little old lady at night, she might just get startled and scream a little bit. Not that I would know firsthand or anything...


  • Suddenly the 747 mounted laser for shooting down inbound missiles becomes viable. These guys are blowing through an inch of steel in 2 seconds, that means they ought to be able to blast through a missile skin much more quickly than that.

  • BARNEY:
    What is this thing? Some kinda weapon?

    SCIENTIST:
    Put that down-it's a prototype.

    We hear Barney fire the Tau cannon. It blasts through the wall where the player is walking.

    BARNEY:
    Man! Why aren't we using it?

    SCIENTIST
    It's much too unpredictable. Don't let it overcharge!

    BARNEY:
    What do you mean, overcharge?

    There is an explosion and SCREAMS.
  • "...is ensuring that the Pentagon, inside of a decade, could be armed with a beam weapon"

    That'd look kind of cool, actually, with a big ID4-style beam weapon projecting from a huge five-sided building.

    Not terribly mobile, though.
  • Wasn't that basically the conclusion of all the starwars laser crap: that it would all be made useless if the incoming ICMB was shiney?
  • Soooooo where can i download plans for my own :)
  • War in 2080 (Score:2, Funny)

    by hengist (71116)
    "There goes the supertechnological soldier, staggering forward to wreak destruction on anyone he can entice within range. Meanwhile, the despicable enemy has opened fire with an old-fashioned but extremely efficient sub-machine gun."

    Wish I could remember who wrote that book.

  • If we're talking about the solid state lasers, which the article emphaisized, then you'd think that countries big in semiconductor manufacturing would be following close behind. The technology for growing big synthetic lasing crystals is very similar to that used to create silicon for chips. As far as that goes, I've read that China's chip fabs are unusual in that some of them have their furnaces in the same compounds as the fabs.
    Sure, most of China's fabs were laid out by european contractors, but that
  • Sounds more like Wlefare at the speed of light How much is this going to cost the government now?

    All in the name of eliminating Terrorism I assume. Man what a cash-cow.
  • "HAHA! Your hundred million dollar laser is no match for my tinfoil Captain Universe outfit."

    Though it'd be funny to see all our enemies running around in shiny foil suits like the ones seen the old sci-fi tv shows.
  • by vor (142690) on Monday October 20, 2003 @06:01PM (#7264911)
    Holds up a mirror?
  • "If we had them today, they'd be at the former Saddam Hussein International Airport, making sure no one gets off a shoulder-launched missile at an aircraft," said Mike Campbell, a laser expert at General Atomics in San Diego.

    Sure. In the same way that checking drivers licenses at the airport will stop bad guys from boarding planes. No hype here, just good old facts.

  • Bah!

    I won't be impressed until they can mount them on sharks!
  • every couple of months slashdot runs a story that says lasers will be seen in the military in a very short time. This has been happening for several years now.

    Of course thats only slashdot. If you count star wars (not the fictional movies, but the fictional defense system), lasers have been on the virge of becoming a great weapon for about twenty years now. I.E. they have been in a state of vaporware for a period almost long enough to rival that of artificial intelligense.

    Of course, if you look at star wa
  • this technology can go to the grocery store, buy a roll of aluminum foil, and wrap their "munitions" in death-beam deflecting reflector material.

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