US Navy ready to deploy laser for first time

Feb 17, 2014 by David Sharp
In this Feb. 24, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a high-speed camera captures the first full-energy shots from an electromagnetic launcher at a test facility in Dahlgren, Va. The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship in 2014, and intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within the following two years. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, John F. Williams)

Some of the Navy's futuristic weapons sound like something out of "Star Wars," with lasers designed to shoot down aerial drones and electric guns that fire projectiles at hypersonic speeds.

That future is now.

The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship later this year, and it intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within two years.

For the Navy, it's not so much about the whiz-bang technology as it is about the economics of such armaments. Both costs pennies on the dollar compared with missiles and smart bombs, and the weapons can be fired continuously, unlike missiles and bombs, which eventually run out.

"It fundamentally changes the way we fight," said Capt. Mike Ziv, program manager for directed energy and electric weapon systems for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The Navy's laser technology has evolved to the point that a prototype to be deployed aboard the USS Ponce this summer can be operated by a single sailor, he said.

The solid-state Laser Weapon System is designed to target what the Navy describes as "asymmetrical threats." Those include aerial drones, speed boats and swarm boats, all potential threats to warships in the Persian Gulf, where the Ponce, a floating staging base, is set to be deployed.

Rail guns, which have been tested on land in Virginia, fire a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound—enough velocity to cause severe damage. The Navy sees them as replacing or supplementing old-school guns, firing lethal projectiles from long distances.

But both systems have shortcomings.

In this July 30, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a laser weapon sits temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey in San Diego. The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship in 2014, and intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within the following two years. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, John F. Williams)

Lasers tend to loser their effectiveness if it's raining, if it's dusty, or if there's turbulence in the atmosphere, and the rail gun requires vast amount of electricity to launch the projectile, said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

"The Navy says it's found ways to deal with use of lasers in bad weather, but there's little doubt that the range of the weapon would be reduced by clouds, dust or precipitation," he said.

Producing enough energy for a rail gun is another problem.

The Navy's new destroyer, the Zumwalt, under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, is the only ship with enough electric power to run a rail gun. The stealthy ship's gas turbine-powered generators can produce up to 78 megawatts of power. That's enough electricity for a medium-size city—and more than enough for a rail gun.

Technology from the three ships in that DDG-1000 series will likely trickle down into future warships, said Capt. James Downey, the program manager.

Engineers are also working on a battery system to store enough energy to allow a rail gun to be operated on warships currently in the fleet.

Both are prized because they serve to "get ahead of the cost curve," Ziv said.

In other words, they're cheap.

In this Feb. 23, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, engineers prepare to test an electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher at a test facility in Dahlgren, Va. The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship in 2014, and intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within the following two years. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, John F. Williams)

Each interceptor missile aboard a U.S. Navy warship costs at least $1 million apiece, making it cost-prohibitive to defend a ship in some hostile environments in which an enemy is using aircraft, drones, artillery, cruise missiles and artillery, Thompson said.

With a laser operating on about 30 kilowatts of electricity—and possibly three times that in the future—the cost amounts to a few dollars per shot, Thompson said.

The "Star Wars" analogy isn't a bad one.

Just like in the movies, the Navy's laser directs a beam of energy that can burn through a target or fry sensitive electronics. Unlike the movie, the laser beam is invisible to the human eye.

The targeting system locks onto the target, sending a beam of searing heat. "You see the effect on what you are targeting but you don't see the actual beam," Ziv said.

Other nations are developing their own lasers, but the Navy is more advanced at this point.

Explore further: New ship's Capt. Kirk is used to 'Star Trek' jokes

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User comments : 13

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TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2014
Maybe theyll actually be able to hit something.
https://www.youtu...OVLefbws
holoman
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2014

The Medusa Directed Energy Weapon

http://archive.is/PCb6
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2014
And what happpens when every nation has gigawatt energy weapons, popping off everything for $10 a shot....

What then?

And what weapons system comes AFTER this?

Ohhhhh Poison Food and Cancer Water.... where we all have our own mass extinction.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (4) Feb 18, 2014
And what happpens when every nation has gigawatt energy weapons, popping off everything for $10 a shot....

What then?

We'll have a bunch of nations with really well defended ships.
And what weapons system comes AFTER this?

Ohhhhh Poison Food and Cancer Water.... where we all have our own mass extinction.

Technology advances. It's inevitable, unavoidable. Should one single nation stop exploring it? What isn't developed by one country will be by others. Multiple others. Not to mention non-countries, like terrorists.

Avoiding technology is not an effective way of dealing with threats.
Osiris1
not rated yet Feb 18, 2014
The Israelis have been usin' lasers to bump off artillery rounds in flight for years. They are gonna deploy this system this year or next. At that point the terrorists will be defanged except for the nutcase 'kamikaze' types.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 18, 2014
Technology advances. It's inevitable, unavoidable. Should one single nation stop exploring it?

Exploring? Sure. Deploying? That's another matter.
What isn't developed by one country will be by others.

That's an iffy arguement...because that leads directly to preemptive strikes ("if we don't do it someone else will")
Avoiding technology is not an effective way of dealing with threats.

Neither is arming everyone to the teeth. Because then you get two additional threats: accident and misunderstanding (which are also present in the 'unarmed' case but there have no consequences)

"If you want peace, prepare for war" doesn't seem sensible. More sensible is:
"If you want war, prepare for war"
(or better yet: "If you want peace, prepare for peace")
Gigel
not rated yet Feb 18, 2014
And what happpens when every nation has gigawatt energy weapons, popping off everything for $10 a shot....

What then?

Lasers are purely defensive weapons right now. What will happen when everyone will be having them? The end of MDWs I guess. No nukes to pass through a laser defense.
Osteta
Feb 18, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Returners
5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2014
"If you want peace, prepare for war" doesn't seem sensible.


You're failing to comprehend the context. There have always been evil people, therefore "Good" people have to protect themselves.

It's an unfortunate circumstance, but the "Good guys" have to be better at killing than the "bad guys" otherwise the bad ones will just kill all the good ones and be done with them.

It's a pretty obvious pattern in human history, which repeats itself basically every generation or two in every nation.

It is perfectly sensible when you realize that evil is not sensible. Evil doesn't need a rationale or motive that you can understand; some pervert rapes an old woman, when he could have done a younger one, not that either is justifiable, but if lust were his only motive, why pick the old one?

There is a certain type of evil which cannot be reasoned with at all, like Nazism and Islamic Terrorists.

For that reason, Good people must arm themselves if they want peace.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2014
That's an iffy arguement...because that leads directly to preemptive strikes ("if we don't do it someone else will")
More eurodisney fantasy logic. I want aa to use this logic to blame North Korea on the US.

"North Korean leaders employ murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence, mass starvation and other abuses as tools to prop up the state and terrorize "the population into submission," the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights (COI) in North Korea said in its report

"The commission said it would refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution. It also sent a letter warning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he could face prosecution for crimes against humanity"

-This neo-nazi regime HAS nukes and has promised to use them on its neighbors and us. Should we wait a few years until he has dozens of warheads sitting on ICBMs capable of reaching Dresden? Or until he actually uses one? When do you think intervention is ok?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2014
Exploring? Sure. Deploying? That's another matter.
Todays weapons systems require years of R&D, field testing, practice and training, tactics development, and upgrading before they can be considered reliable and effective. By the time they are needed it is far too late to begin making them. And so making and using them before they are needed is obviously the only choice.
No nukes to pass through a laser defense
No laser system can defend against a MIRV swarm with dummies and countermeasures.
Returners
5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2014
The laser is not intended to be a "magic pill" defensive or offensive weapon. It is intended to replace some conventional weapon roles, and fill other roles not occupied by conventional weapons, such as intercepting a rocket much farther in distance than normal.

As for what the next step in military technology would be, the answer is Plasma Shielding and Plasma weapons. Experiments are done in this realm already, but much like the Laser and the Rail gun, the energy requirements are prohibitive, as are the physical constraints and limits of how to shape magnetic fields.

You also have practical issues. You cannot keep a Plasma Shield up indefinitely due to energy demands and heat waste. However, you cannot see an enemy light-speed laser attack coming either. Therefore a Plasma Shield is only useful with virtually perfect military intelligence, where the shield is raised only just before an engagement, and lowered immediately after the engagement is resolved.
Requiem
5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2014
No laser system can defend against a MIRV swarm with dummies and countermeasures.


This is outright false assuming they can be tracked. The main problem is that it's at least one order of magnitude more expensive to deploy them on a large enough scale to counter a given threat than it is to simply increase the volume of said threat using current technology.

Another issue is that it'd also be much less expensive to retrofit existing warheads to avoid precision tracking.

I'm not going to go find a source, but this is exactly the conclusion that has all but killed strategic missile defense programs in general.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2014
This is outright false assuming they can be tracked
Even if they could be tracked (they cant) countermeasures including decoys and maneuverability, as well as their sheer speed, reduce effective target time to zero.