Watch the U.S. Navy's new laser weapon take out two ships in the Persian Gulf


#1

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#2

Awesome. In the biblical sense.


#3

Fire all phasers!


#4

i’d like it better if it had a blue beam, like, you know, phasers.


#5

Doesn’t seem to do a lot to the thin steel structures on the boats. I guess it’s made to blow up things that blow up when heated (like rockets or I assume outboard motors) or set fire to things that can burn (like people).


#6

So as long as the enemy only uses small or flammable boats, the US Navy is perfectly safe!


#7

Really?


#8

As much as my blood is stirred by the generically rockin’ soundtrack and fast cuts between the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-telescope, the hapless test boat, and the super-futuristic control room(most notably, arranged in such a way as to make judging actual ablation rates of target structural material basically impossible to judge…) I find my skepticism lobe pulsing with skeptical exudate.

As a baseline, your basic 2Kw laser cutter, working at point blank range, no atmospheric dispersion, spray, reflective/ablative surfaces, etc. is not particularly fast(1.2mm/minute!) at dealing with 1cm steel plate. This puppy is considerably more powerful; but working at greater range, under less than optimal conditions, and against a ‘red team’ that might just do something unsportsmanlike like slather seawater-cooled mud on their fast attack boat.

Am I being unduly pessimistic, and something in the 30Kw range is actually pretty terrifying against materials that aren’t your retinas, or is this basically a best-case rigged demo where somebody painted a small explosive device black, stuck in on a dingy, and then sent the results to the guys in postproduction?

As a Get-Off-My-Damn-Lawn-Kids-These-Days! benchmark, what would this video look like if, say, the venerable M2, as incrementally updated in continuous service from the War of Eukaryotic Succession to the present day, were equipped with a similarly fancy mount and fire control system and allowed to dispense some good, honest, kinetic justice?


#9

What a brilliant bit of wordsmithing!

For those who don’t get the reference, the M2 is this:


#11

30 kilowatts may sound pretty awesome but is not really that much. Depends primarily on the diameter of the area it is focused at (to get the energy-per-area).

Judging from the fairly high energy efficiency (Wikipedia here says 35%), it is likely to be a diode-pumped neodymium laser. 1064 nm. That hypothesis is strengthened by the tint of the output lens; the alternative at these powers is CO2 and that’s at 10600 nm. Another alternative is an erbium laser, at 2940 nm. The host crystal may or may not be YAG, it is good but there are better.

For power-over-area figures, check a table here:

Note that 80 kW/m2 is what thermal protective clothing is tested for.

For hardening of the targets, there is a plethora of off-the-shelf approaches, already researched for the field of passive fire protection. An example is the intumescent paints; these, when subjected to high thermal radiation flux, form a layer of porous char, which insulates the substrate from the heat and increases time to ignite.

Another possibility is ablative coating; something that absorbs the laser’s energy and dissipates it by vaporizing itself. Lots of prior art here in the problematics of reentry vehicles.

For protection of ammo, a thin piece of metal, spaced even a little bit from the equipment underneath, should do. Maybe even a cooking aluminium foil could provide a significant degree of hardening.


#12

Dr. Chris Knight nor Dr. Mitch Taylor could be reached for comment.


#14

Great analysis.

However, the LaWs is not meant to be a sole uber-weapon.

This USS Ponce also carries eight 50 cal machine guns, 2 “bushmaster” auto-cannons, and a pair a Phalanx anti-missile systems. More hardened threats would presumably be addressed with these other systems.

The LaWs gives the USS Ponce commander more options for dealing with “lighter” threats. In this vein, the real benefit might be that is does act slowly, as you suggest.

The video suggests they can target on area of about a square foot. I can see how that might be a “persuasive deterrent” against many actors for whom one does not want to unleash lethal force, such as the Chinese “fishing boats” that harassed the USS Impeccable.

Also, many asymmetric threats will intentionally not be “hardened,” like the small boat used in the attack against the USS Cole. I am certain the commander of the Cole would have loved to have had one of these – you can “attack” a threat without any sounds or evidence of gunfire…

…and the LaWs looks great for swatting most cheap drones.


#15

The bored, warmed-over faces of those laser gun operators. They look like they’re preparing microwave dinners. Zot!


#16

That’s another kind of directed-energy weapons.


#17

Thanks bizmail, I was having similar thoughts. The navy already has weapons for dealing with heavily armed and armored targets. What they don’t have a good defense for is a swarm of small, fast attackers.


#18

Asymmetrical warfare - newspeak for “We spend more on the military that the rest of the world combined”.


#19

Man, that’s some cheap video production values for showing off a gazillion billion dollar gadget. I wonder if it’s the same in-house team of interns who come up with the delightful logo designs.


#20

Pretty impressive display of the tracking system. Weapon… not so much.


#21

Doesn’t that literally mean “war against much weaker enemies that don’t really stand a chance”? Is that a point of pride? Does it require special weapons?


#22

No, it means guerrilla warfare. For which your big battleships and fighter planes aren’t generally well-suited.