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Boeing's Enormous Navy Laser Cannon

CmdrTaco posted more than 2 years ago | from the pew-pew-pew dept.

The Military 291

An anonymous reader writes "Boeing is working to build a huge, incredibly powerful, soon-to-be-seafaring laser for the US Navy. This free electron laser can produce light of any wavelength (ie, color) directly from an electron beam, and gets an energy boost from a superconducting particle accelerator. Once it's onboard ships, the laser could be used to shoot down cruise missiles and artillery shells."

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291 comments

The laser (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520294)

will become the ultimate defence weapon.

Imagine have LASER mounted along your border. They will shoot down anything, instantly.

Image roof top boxes in cities that can shoot stff down a mile away. Bombing Baghdad would have been impossible,.

Interesting times.

Re:The laser (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520358)

will become the ultimate defence weapon.

And I'm sure the human race will find many unthinkable ways to use it on each other, animals and the landscape of the Earth.

Interesting times.

Indeed.

Re:The laser (2)

nicolastheadept (930317) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520524)

Tbh, lasers like this are incredibly impractical for anything other than missile defense. For attacking, there are a million better ways. Such as missiles!

Military pyromaniacs (2)

NetFusion (86828) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521100)

An offensive use of space based focused solar energy or powerful earth based lasers could also be to cause chaos in an enemy country by starting fires in cities and drought affected regions.

Re:The laser (2)

camperslo (704715) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520582)

But can it do something useful for business, like burn corporate logos into the surface of the moon?

As for patrolling borders, it might be viable as a game. Add web interfaces to the cameras and lasers and people would PAY to patrol the borders.

Making conflict of any kind profitable is a slippery slope. Next thing you know we'd have politicians advocating slavery, even sex slaves.
That isn't possible, is it???

http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/middle-east/men-should-have-sex-slaves-says-female-kuwaiti-politician [thenational.ae]

Re:The laser (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520640)

We've been there already, many many times. This weapons is a future technology demonstrator for space wars. It has little to no room on planet surface with all the impurities of the air, nasty atmospheric conditions, and generally sucking in comparison to chemical propulsion mass drivers also known as firearms.

This was done to death even on slashdot.

Re:The laser (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520950)

And yet, that has been disproved. Lasers CAN fire for long distance in many conditions. More importantly, if it can fire RAPIDLY and uses ship power, this may be very useful.

Re:The laser (1)

artfulshrapnel (1893096) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521154)

Worth pointing out: Even in space lasers aren't significantly better than projectiles. Projectiles use less fuel (hard to get in space), create less heat output (difficult to vent when you're floating in a vacuum) and come in a variety of different configurations for different purposes. Add the fact that in space projectiles fly in perfectly straight lines and don't slow down... There are the obvious issues of speed and distance (lasers travel really fast, so they are good for hitting a maneuvering ship several thousand miles away) but guided projectiles solve this problem pretty easily. I predict that the weapon of choice for space conflict will be guided missiles that carry a payload of several hundred depleted uranium flechettes, fired when the missile reaches an appropriate distance from the target.

Re:The laser (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520844)

The laser will become the ultimate defence weapon.

Weapons of this nature are only useful in proportion to their sensors and command-and-control systems.
 

Image roof top boxes in cities that can shoot stff down a mile away. Bombing Baghdad would have been impossible

The aircraft then just fly five miles up and saturate your defenses with carpet bombing. Or use stealth aircraft. Or use electronic warfare. Or use saturation level artillery from five miles away... Or any combination thereof.
 
All this is assuming that a (pretty expensive and sophisticated) sensor and command and control network is in place though - a network that's vulnerable in it's own right.

Re:The laser (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520862)

Uh, right. Ultimate defence. Unless you overstress the laser (needs to dissipate heat for x% of operating time or whatever). Or just exhaust the power source (chemical laser with 70 shots in the bag, yay! Uh, sir, there are 71 missiles inbound to this position. Boo).

Or.. you could breech a laser defence by overwhelming its targeting capability with sheer numbers of live ordnance. Or by screening your live ordnance with decoys (perhaps armored so it takes longer for the laser to bring it down). Or redesigning the missile bodies for reduced radar signatures the tracking system won't recognize as ordnance.

Or, if you read some sci-fi, use really, really reflective paint.

Re:The laser (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520902)

Imagine an airborne laser that can shoot stuff on rooftops from 2 miles away. Oh dear, Baghdad gets bombed again.

History littered with "ultimate" weapon ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521038)

The laser will become the ultimate defence weapon. Imagine have LASER mounted along your border. They will shoot down anything, instantly. Image roof top boxes in cities that can shoot stff down a mile away. Bombing Baghdad would have been impossible,.

Imagine an enemy with a better laser than can knock out the defensive lasers from beyond their effective range. Imagine an enemy with a technology that can interfere with the defensive lasers target acquisition and aiming. Imagine an enemy with a delivery system (drone ?) that can use nap of the earth flight to avoid being targeted. Imagine more bombs/decoys coming into range than the defensive laser can track, target, fire on and repeat quickly enough.

Interesting times.

Actually more of the same most likely, same human decisions and actions, just different tools.

Conversely, the can use laseron us too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36521056)

You never thought of THAT, eh? All they have to is use lasers on OUR lasers, then simply march in. You Pollyanna view assumes they won't have lasers, and only we will. Every new weapon has been touted as being the ultimate defense, only to be matched equally. Come back when you finally take a history class.

Re:The laser (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36521084)

.

Image roof top boxes in cities that can shoot stff down a mile away. Bombing Baghdad would have been impossible,.

Interesting times.

Yeah, like a bunch of sand niggers is going to figure this out.

de-fencing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36521104)

sounds like an expensive way to de-fence. hell, a good white-wash is all it really needs anyway.

Re:The laser (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521108)

Bombing Baghdad would have been impossible,.

Interesting times.

Assuming the bombs are detectable. I imagine stealth munitions would be the next logical goal.

Re:The laser (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36521148)

To shoot it down, first you have to see it!
Warfare is all about the unexpected.

Good luck with your laser, against a stealth Zar bomb on a stealth plane. And even if you do shoot it down, you're still fucked. Big time.

Although Iâ(TM)m never for what is just professional mass-murder for personal profit under another name.

didn't this... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520296)

just get cancelled?

Re:didn't this... something did (4, Informative)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520374)

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/06/power-down-senate-zaps-navys-superlaser-railgun/ [wired.com]

The Senate just drove a stake into the Navy’s high-tech heart. The directed energy and electromagnetic weapons intended to protect the surface ships of the future? Terminated.

The Free Electron Laser and the Electromagnetic Rail Gun are experimental weapons that the Navy hope will one day burn missiles careening toward their ships out of the sky and fire bullets at hypersonic speeds at targets thousands of miles away. Neither will be ready until at least the 2020s, the Navy estimates. But the Senate Armed Services Committee has a better delivery date in mind: never.

The committee approved its version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill on Friday, priced to move at $664.5 billion, some $6.4 billion less than what the Obama administration wanted. The bill “terminates” the Free Electron Laser and the rail gun, a summary released by the committee gleefully reports.

“The determination was that the Free Electron Laser has the highest technical risk in terms of being ultimately able to field on a ship, so we thought the Navy could better concentrate on other laser programs,” explains Rick DeBobes, the chief of staff for the committee. “With the Electromagnetic Rail Gun, the committee felt the technical challenges to developing and fielding the weapon would be daunting, particularly [related to] the power required and the barrel of the gun having limited life.”

Re:didn't this... something did (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520416)

No worries. I'm sure the Chinese will be willing to buy/steal it.

Re:didn't this... something did (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520668)

Chinese prefer battle tested, actually functioning systems, meaning kinetic weapons. Not massively unreliable, energy hungry weapons designed mainly for application in vacuum and optimal for distances where kinetic weapons cease to be viable.

Re:didn't this... something did (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521128)

Do not sweat it. That will be returned by the house. More importantly, Gates, and I have heard Panneta, back this. So far, the only directed energy weapons that gates had issues with was the ALTB.

Does it make (3, Insightful)

markian (745705) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520300)

Does it make "pew pew pew" noises?

Re:Does it make (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520708)

Boeing can add that, but it's a $4b option. The Pentagon is still considering it.

Wow! (3, Funny)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520302)

Imagine the size of those sharks required for such huge laser weapons.

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520472)

With genetic engineering, you don't have to!

Re:Wow! (4, Informative)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520518)

Imagine the size of those sharks required for such huge laser weapons.

That joke is now 14 years, 1 month, and 19 days old.

Re:Wow! (3, Insightful)

sxltrex (198448) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520786)

And still just as fresh as the day it was first memed.

Re:Wow! (1)

rednip (186217) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520956)

Maybe to you, but I think that Slashdot should have a '-1 tired old meme' that would work like 'funny' (i.e. no karma affect).

Re:Wow! (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520528)

Imagine the size of those sharks required for such huge laser weapons.

And you thought Jurassic Park was only fiction and the DoD didn't have special secret black ops program for bringing these back. [wikipedia.org]

gotcha!

Ah'm A-Chargin' Mah Laser!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520740)

And just think of the extreme charging time required

I call a vote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520304)

Boeing's Enormous Navy Laser Cannon

Best headline of the year! CmdrTaco, can we please put up a yearly vote? Call it a new tradition, starting with this entry.

Why Navy? (2)

Ian_Bailey (469273) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520372)

Why not, say, Forest Green, or Taupe?

Re:Why Navy? (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520484)

Actually, I would kinda like to know what wavelength they are using, but that might be top secret information...

Re:Why Navy? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520884)

The summary claims it could emit light at any wavelength, but I'd bet they can't get even close to Planck length. :-)

Re:Why Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36521124)

Actually, I would kinda like to know what wavelength they are using, but that might be top secret information...

the fact that it can be in "any color" of laser beam would mean that the wavelength is variable and controlable.

Aircraft carriers (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520382)

This is why the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers were designed with way more generation and distribution capacity then they currently need, the Navy knew that directed energy weapons were the future of point defense systems. It may be free electron lasers or perhaps some kind of rail gun, or perhaps something else, but it seems unlikely that the chemical powder based system at the heart of CIWS will still be in use in 60+ years when the Ford is retired.

Get your terminology right! (0)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520386)

The article says, among other things, that there's lots of work to do "before they put it on a boat." Are there really people out there that are so brain-dead that they don't know that the word is "ship," not "boat?" Come on, people, get a clue!

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520488)

They are often referred to as boats, especially by the military.

Come on, people, get a clue!

Indeed.

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520604)

When I called my ship a boat, as in going back to the boat, that was acceptable because I was talking to my shipmates. You, a landlubber, are not the proper audience for that slang. The only boats in the navy are what any landlubber would buy, size-wise, and submarines.

Clueless landlubber. Go away. Take a short walk on a long pier, you'll stay dry that way.

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520622)

No, submarines are boats, large surface going vessels are ships. You could *maybe* refer to a frigate as a boat, but that would only be to piss off those stationed on a frigate. Nobody in the Navy would refer to a destroyer, cruiser, or carrier as a boat, at least not in serious conversation.

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

Libertarian001 (453712) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520920)

You should leave the talk to the adults who served. We NEVER called the "Big E" a ship. She was always a boat.

CVN-65 U.S.S. Enterprise (1996-2000)

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520936)

No, submarines are boats

All modern US hull classifications for submarines include "SS", which stands for "submersible ship".

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520760)

Friends had a father on tankers, and one day, driving him to the ship for his next trip, their small son asked if they were going back to grandpa's boat. No, *ship* said grandpa. *Shit* said the kid. *Ship* said grandpa. *Shit* said the kid. *Boat* said grandpa.

No one else gets to call them boats, unless they enjoy being outed as ignorant arrogant landlubbers.

Re:Get your terminology right! (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520994)

If you've been around the Horn in a 30' sloop, you can call it whatever the fuck you want.

Strategic Defense Initiative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520410)

Didn't we try this once before? [wikipedia.org] I can't imagine mounting this thing on the high seas will be any more any more effective than from space.

Meanwhile, across the US thousands of teachers are being laid off.

aim (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520446)

Being able to "shoot down cruise missiles and artillery shells" assumes that they can aim. We know from the Regan administration and their StarWars program that aiming is often the hardest part.

Re:aim (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520578)

I'm pretty sure technology has advanced to the point that aiming is no longer an issue.

WHOA THERE! (2)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520960)

I'm pretty sure technology has advanced to the point that aiming is no longer an issue.

Hey! We haven't quite manged to piss off the whole rest of the world yet.

Old equipment never dies. It just gets reused: (2)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520460)

If you look closely at the upper left in the 10th photo in the linked article, the one of the control room:

Is that a nixie tube display in the top slot of the third rack from the right?

Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites? (2)

Marrow (195242) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520486)

Could you bounce the beam off a satellite and back down to earth targets? Or to air and space targets that are over the horizon? Could you do it with something flying lower, like a mirror mounted on a aircraft?

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520552)

That was the Reflex Gun on Pluto, but it was the Gamilons' thing.

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520674)

I've gotten wooshed several times lately, so I'm going to assume you're joking.

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

avandesande (143899) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520820)

The illustration in TFA shows the beam bouncing off something- I would guess it was a plane or satellite.

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

0x537461746943 (781157) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520890)

If you can bounce the beam then missiles would just need that same ability to divert the laser energy back at the source rendering the laser worse than useless because it could destroy the source of the beam.

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521022)

I would not want to be the guy flying the giant-mirror-for-the-superlaser aircraft

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521058)

Could you do it with something flying lower, like a mirror mounted on a aircraft?

Think how much popcorn we could make with something like that!

Re:Is it feasible to bounce the beam off satelites (1)

zamboni1138 (308944) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521118)

Perhaps you could convert old school drive-in movie theater screens into reflectors.

Or better yet, adapt them into some kind of capacitor to store the laser energy until needed.

But you would need to be very careful with your targeting. I seem to remember an experiment in the mid '80s using similar, albeit much less advanced, technology that caused untold damage to at least one network's television relay satellite. The same incident reportedly destroyed or severely damaged several consumer televisions throughout North America.

"wiggler" (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520498)

Looks impressive, and though it may be a technical term or what the thing is universally called, lets rename the "wiggler" part. Doesn't exactly inspire fear.

President: "Look, North Korea, either you turn the giant kim-il-jong robot around, or we deploy the electron beam laser with wiggler attachment"
Clone of Kim-il Jong: "Bwahahah! We are not afraid of your wiggly little laser! KIMBOT! DEPLOY THE MIRROR SHIELD!"

Re:"wiggler" (1)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520724)

And then Kimbot proceeds to drink high price cognac and starve his people, for though we may wish it, we can never escape the genes of our father.

Re:"wiggler" (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 2 years ago | (#36521064)

Well, I think thats a bit of a mislabeling, anyway.

An FEL needs inter-bunch coherence in the insertion device.
Therfore, a K factor smaller than one would be required for efficient emission.

This would make the ID an Undulator, and not a Wiggler.

Stock opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520546)

What coporation(s) manufacture the largest amount of light reflective materials (a.k.a mirrors)?

Don't look into that laser! (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520596)

This would awesome for presentations. Burning down the whole f"#€ building :O
Except for burning down incoming ordinance, what else could it do?

Could it burn holes on the surface of the moon? or astroids?
If so we could check for Helium 3 on the moon with out sending probes = cheap.

How about mining, burning holes for termal energy wells?

Congress just cut all funding (1)

bricko (1052210) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520664)

Unless Boeing is going to belly up with their own money....Congress just cut ALL funding for the entire program.

We're going to need a bigger shark! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520722)

see subject

Bob and Tom join the Navy: (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520728)

I take a look at my enormous laser
And my troubles start a-meltin' away (ba-doom bop bop)
I take a look at my enormous laser
And the happy times are comin' to stay (be-doo)

Didnt they just cancel funding? (1)

MeatoBurrito (1990634) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520730)

Too bad they aren't working on it anymore! http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/06/power-down-senate-zaps-navys-superlaser-railgun/ [wired.com] "The Senate just drove a stake into the Navy’s high-tech heart. The directed energy and electromagnetic weapons intended to protect the surface ships of the future? Terminated. The Free Electron Laser and the Electromagnetic Rail Gun are experimental weapons that the Navy hope will one day burn missiles careening toward their ships out of the sky and fire bullets at hypersonic speeds at targets thousands of miles away. Neither will be ready until at least the 2020s, the Navy estimates. But the Senate Armed Services Committee has a better delivery date in mind: never. The committee approved its version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill on Friday, priced to move at $664.5 billion, some $6.4 billion less than what the Obama administration wanted. The bill “terminates” the Free Electron Laser and the rail gun, a summary released by the committee gleefully reports."

Cancelled (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520734)

Actually as a part of the official budget the Senate has cancelled both this and the more famous Railgun project. Mwa-mwuuuuuu. :C

"The determination was that the Free Electron Laser has the highest technical risk in terms of being ultimately able to field on a ship, so we thought the Navy could better concentrate on other laser programs," explains Rick DeBobes, the chief of staff for the committee. "With the Electromagnetic Railgun, the committee felt the technical challenges to developing and fielding the weapon would be daunting, particularly [related to] the power required and the barrel of the gun having limited life."

http://dvice.com/archives/2011/06/senate-cancels.php

Hey Girls... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520764)

Anyone interested in seeing my Enormous Navy Laser Cannon?

De-funded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520768)

Um, isn't this the same ship-based free-electron laser cannon project that was just killed in the new defense spending bill?

umm... reflection (1)

0x537461746943 (781157) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520808)

And what if missiles start using mirrored surfaces that reflect the light back at the source? Doh!

Re:umm... reflection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520968)

I shouldn't even dignify this with a comment.

Mirrors are only useful while the coating remains intact. High power lasers such as this one will burn through most thin mirror coatings quite rapidly. Therefore, mirroring your missile will only marginally increase the time needed to destroy said missile.

Star Wars - don't hold your breath (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520832)

Star Wars type protection has been looked at, test, examined, etc for 30 years. The closest the defense department has ever come is a partial hit on an incoming missile which they had attached a homing beacon so the laser could locate it.

No, it won't shoot anything. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520834)

Its been canceled.
http://importedadage39.blogspot.com/2011/06/senate-denies-navy-missile-destroying.html
or
http://dvice.com/archives/2011/06/senate-cancels.php
or from the WSJ, as eloquent as ever:
http://onespot.wsj.com/gadgets/2011/06/17/cef2f/senate-cancels-navys-free-electron-laser

descoped? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520870)

Didn't the funding for the free electron laser as well as the railgun just get cut from the budget?

It is a great idea, but.... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#36520918)

How will it handle rain, cloudy conditions, etc? Generally, battles are started during increment weather. The reason is to make it harder for an enemy to know what you are up to. Of course, with radar, etc. that is less of an issue. However, a laser should still be impacted by the amount of rain that it has to go through in a typical ocean storm.

In addition, it brings up the question of, how often can it fire? If it can do multiple shots than it might not be as useful as regular bullets. However, if it has the ability to go multiple rounds quickly, then combine that with the coming railgun and of course, something like a phalynx and you have a much better chance of protection.

The final question is, how soon can we expect to see this on Chinese equipment?

I bet it's pretty adept at (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36520988)

draining taxpayers of money on the hurry.

Aiming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36521034)

How do you aim something like this? You don't turn the ship, I hope, or rotate the entire assembly. Is it all done with (smoke and) mirrors?

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