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Shark The Military Science

US Navy Breaks Laser Record 294

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-nice-to-see-val-kilmer-finding-work dept.
ectotherm writes "The US Navy has broken the existing record for the power of a laser. Their new free-electron laser can burn through 20 feet of steel per second. 'Next up for the tech: additional weaponization. The Navy just awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $163 million to take that technology and package it as a 100 kW weapons system, one that the Navy hopes to use not only to destroy things but for on-ship communications, tracking and detection, too — using a fraction of the energy such applications use now, plus with more accuracy.' Now all we need to do is upgrade the sharks..."
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US Navy Breaks Laser Record

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  • 20 feeet, not 200 (Score:5, Informative)

    by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:38AM (#35253512)

    The article said it can burn thru 20 feet of steel per second, not 200 per the slashdot version.

    Even the 20 feet is likely misleading since I doubt it can sustain that power output for more than a fraction of a second, and anyways if you really were borign thru multiple feet of steel then all your vaporized steel in the borehole you were creating would get in the way of the laser.

    Still very impressive though. I'd love to see the face of the first crackpot dictator whose ICBMs are shot down by one of these.

    • Re:20 feeet, not 200 (Score:4, Informative)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:14AM (#35253716)

      I'd love to see the face of the first crackpot dictator whose ICBMs are shot down by one of these.

      Currently, no dictator at the crackpot level has an ICBM. Emphasis on the C.

    • Re:20 feeet, not 200 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Yvanhoe (564877) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:37AM (#35253812) Journal
      This is very interesting and I think the point is not to shoot down ICBMs but to shoot down anti-ship missiles. Right now, there are simply no way to stop a recent missile before it gets to the ship. Aircraft carriers are currently little more than overpriced targets. This kind of research is vital to the navy.
  • Not lasing yet (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:39AM (#35253522)

    This 500kV test was of just the accelerator (i.e. the bit the produces the electron beam part of a Free Electron Beam laser), not the FEL itself. It's this electron beam that is purported to do the extraordinary steel-cutting, not the laser beam. There is no mention of whether this was a momentary or sustained electron beam output. A 500kV accelerator on it's own isn't all that impressive, but once they package it into a small volume (room rather than building), and actually use it to lase, then that will be very impressive indeed.

  • by seeker_1us (1203072) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:46AM (#35253554)
    Naval artillery and missiles can shoot over the horizon. Lasers have to be in line of sight.
    • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:58AM (#35253622)

      Who needs range when your "missile" is travelling at the speed of light?

      Anyways, for a laser mounted on a Navy warship, say 10m above sea level, the horizon is over 10km away, so even an incoming sea skipping exocet missile coming in at 300 m/s is over 30 sec away.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizon [wikipedia.org]

      • Would that be the exocet missile with the fresh coat of Krylon metallic chrome paint on the nose cone? :P

        • And what percent of incoming light do you think chrome paint reflects? 99%? Why, that only leaves 2.5 inches of steel per second of cutting power, and what it actually needs is enough heat to burn paint, which is considerably less.
        • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @04:17PM (#35255348) Homepage

          Mirrors don't work against extremely high power lasers. The electric field strength at the focal point is such that electrons are ripped directly out of the atoms. This forms a plasma which is an efficient absorber regardless of how shiny the surface originally was.

          • I was being facetious about the chrome painted missile but you are wrong about mirrors and high power lasers.

            It is not as simple as spraying krylon chrome paint on a substrate to create a laser mirror and cooling is an issue but even high power lasers utilize mirrors in the optical cavity with a Q switch outcoupler mirror on one end.

            For your reference here is a picture of the outcoupler from the Jefferson Lab FEL [jlab.org] being worked on.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      But naval warfare is well suited to the sharks that you mount your lasers on

    • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:01AM (#35253638)

      These laser systems are being developed to shoot down incoming artillery and missiles. That's why the US Navy is commissioning companies to develop small enough systems to be fit in destroyers. That way, the US carrier group employs these destroyers to protect the carrier group from airborne threats while the carrier, with their fighters and bombers, occupy themselves with attacking stuff over the horizon.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      good you have the basics, now go back and learn which horizon your shooting over and how one shoots over the horizon to begin with.

      There is plenty of time for a laser to hit naval artillery and missiles while they are flying over the horizon and the target they are attacking

    • What makes you think that they're just for attacking? One of the nice things about lasers is that they can be aimed very quickly. With enough energy, you can vaporise incoming artillery shells. And if you can vaporise any incoming cruise or ballistic weapons, you can get very close to the enemy...
      • by Carewolf (581105)

        So you have an incoming ballistic projectile coming at you and you shoot it with you laser.. You now have a molten superheated projectile of the exact same mass and velocity coming at you.. It is very convinient to be able to detonate warheads before impact, but the enemy will stil have old-fashioned mass-based weapons to shoot you with.

        • No, you have a superheated cloud of vapour coming at you with the same momentum. The interactions between air and a solid projectile and air and a cloud of vapour are very different.
      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        One of the nice things about lasers is that they can be aimed very quickly. With enough energy, you can vaporise incoming artillery shells

        I feel bad for the birds of prey, who will suddenly become the military's dinner.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Then again, defensive lasers could shoot down incoming enemy artillery and missiles.

      Also, notice the sentence "the Navy just awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $163 million to take that technology and package it as a 100 kW weapons system."

    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      Lasers are unavoidable and impossible to counter - the best you can do is get more hull plating everywhere. They just about never miss, either, especially on large targets.

      • by fish waffle (179067) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:54AM (#35253882)
        ...impossible to counter?

        Umm, what if the enemy launched 1000 fake missiles at the same time---how many simultaneous targets can it destroy? What if they launched a series of missiles from beyond the horizon, how long can you keep using your laser? What if they launched torpedos instead, or at the same time, does your laser also work underwater? What if they launched highly reflective chaff with their missiles, would your laser be able to find the target and would it have full energy? What if they launched a whole lot of small missiles rather than one big one? What if their missiles incorporated radar invisibility, so you don't see it with the auto-aiming mechanism? What if they just launched chunks of metal that didn't care if they had a pin-sized hole in them? What if they made missiles that looked like missiles, but actually had the explosive part offset somehow, so your super-accurate laser kept burning holes in irrelevant areas?
      • Lasers are unavoidable and impossible to counter

        I checked and the local Ace Hardware is mysteriously out of Krylon metallic chrome spray paint.

    • by Graff (532189)

      Naval artillery and missiles can shoot over the horizon. Lasers have to be in line of sight.

      True, which is why you make them orbital lasers.

      Even better is if you make them orbital mind-control lasers! [wikia.com]

      • by PPH (736903)

        True, which is why you make them orbital lasers

        Now that's a shark out of water if ever there was one.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      I like the AC's response for humor, but I can envision us putting up a bunch of orbital mirrors. 'Course, why not put the weapon in orbit as well? Cuts down on half the travel time, and also can be more accurately pointed.
  • Laser launchers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cheerio Boy (82178) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:51AM (#35253578) Homepage Journal
    Everybody's complaining about the weaponization of this, and I agree they don't need any more toys, but I think this is a good thing because it's a great step towards laser launching systems and away from chemical rockets.

    The military may have done it but it also could be adapted to commercial usages.

    Heck one thing I can think of is dismantling large ships in boneyards. This would be good for any sort of metal recycling in fact.
  • Real Genius (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mr100percent (57156) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @10:52AM (#35253582) Homepage Journal

    Over 20 comments before someone mentions Real Genius? This was like the plot of the movie itself.

    • by Graff (532189)

      Over 20 comments before someone mentions Real Genius? This was like the plot of the movie itself.

      I thought the plot was about nerds getting laid! The laser part was just a way to move the plot along...

    • The plot was stupid.

      They created an incredibly expensive weapon that could only be used to very accurately kill single person per shot, but through several layers of armor.

      The only possible effect of such a weapon on the nature of warfare would be to change war from a bloody activity in which thousands or millions of commoners sacrifice their lives for the goals of a few powerful elite, to one in which the powerful elite are the targets: A B-1 bomber with a single-shot laser is not exactly the kind of equip

      • Re:Real Genius (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday February 19, 2011 @01:01PM (#35254188)

        It's hard to believe that peace lovers would be opposed to the very kind of weapon that would reduce the bloodshed and put pressure on the very causes of wars...

        That's because it isn't. If you start assassinating the enemy's leadership (whether it be with baseball bats or orbiting laser projectors), you're going to start World War III. And, because you've killed off all the people who had the power to say "stop", it will continue until we're all dead.

  • A Real Genius moment here. Why would the U.S. Navy need a LASED stream of electrons that can cut through 20 feet of steel?
  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:06AM (#35253686) Homepage
    What's that expressed as houses of popcorn?
  • by Aaron_Pike (528044) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:07AM (#35253690) Homepage
    I didn't see any data about blooming or effective range. Any ideas? Is there a physicist in the house?
    • by davidwr (791652)

      As an initial estimate, I'd say loses its effectiveness somewhere between 20 feet and infinity. I realize you were looking for something more precise than this, but it's all I have right now.

      It's possible that anyone with the data to give you a more precise answer would have to kill you if he told you.

      • It's possible that anyone with the data to give you a more precise answer would have to kill you if he told you.

        I've always wondered if that would hold up in court.

        "Yes, Your Honor, once I told him, I had to kill him. It was a moral imperative."

        "So then why did you tell him?"

  • Would this tool help to prevent an event similar to 9/11 or metro explosions?

    Would not a co-development be a better choice?

  • Anyone else a bit concerned about something like this in orbit? There wouldn't be any place on earth safe from it.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      There is already no place on Earth that couldn't be completely destroyed by a determined military attack in a matter of hours. What's your point?

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Guided bombs in orbit could hit anywhere on Earth too and I don't hear anybody worrying about that. This laser technology isn't anywhere close to being used in a weapon, unlike guided bombs.

  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by syncrotic (828809) on Saturday February 19, 2011 @11:48AM (#35253848)

    Wow, that was one of the worst articles I've ever read.

    "To create incredible power requires incredible energy. After all, the more power one puts into a laser accelerator, the more powerful and precise the light beam that comes out on the other end."

    So to "create power" requires energy. Uh, ok... I'm with you, sort of.

    "Scientists there, in coordination with the Office of Naval Research (ONR), injected a sustained 500 kilovolts (KV) of juice into a prototype accelerator where the existing limit had been 320 kV..."

    OK, so they "injected" 500kV of "juice." Fuck you, fox news.

    "According to ONR officials, that laser beam will eventually perform at a staggering âoemegawatt class,â a measure of the laser's strength. Right now, the accelerator at Jefferson Lab is performing at just 14 Kilowatts."

    So wait, the power output of this thing is actually 14kW, and the goal of the program is to reach 1MW. But apparently they were at 10kW four years ago... so what's this article actually about? The fact that they increased the voltage to 500kV from the previous 320kV? Why does that matter?

    "Today, Neil and others have shown that they have the ability to harness super-conducting electron power."

    Oh ok, I guess the big development here is that they're using superconductors... or something. It's tough to tell, because "super-conducting electron power" is a series of words that, when strung together, don't mean a fucking thing.

    "Clearly, the day's events were a feather in everyoneâ(TM)s cap."

    Clearly.

    • by PPH (736903)

      So wait, the power output of this thing is actually 14kW, and the goal of the program is to reach 1MW. But apparently they were at 10kW four years ago... so what's this article actually about? The fact that they increased the voltage to 500kV from the previous 320kV? Why does that matter?

      It matters because the Navy is cutting Boeing a check for $163 million. And if they did so without declaring some sort of technological milestone (particularly in todays economy), people would be pissed.

    • by necro81 (917438)
      If only I had mod points today - I'd mark you up sky high. It's one of the things that always irks me about most science reporting in the popular media: the inability to tell apart key concepts like "power", "energy", and "voltage." Fox News isn't alone in this realm of ignorance - they just happen to have it elevated to high art. No wonder most adherents to Fox News don't understand our upcoming resource and climate crisis: they've been fed incoherent babble like this.
    • by blair1q (305137)

      "super-conducting electron power" is a series of words that, when strung together, don't mean a fucking thing.

      in fact, they're oxymoronic

      electrons flowing in 0 resistance generate 0 power

    • I thought lasers were measured in Gillettes (ie how many razor blades it can burn through per pulse)
  • Per second? How thick?

  • 20 feet of solid steel at a 1 micron hole? 20 linear feet of sheet steel at 1 micron thick? What are the exact specs?
  • How soon before we see this on a Chinese ship?

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