Navy One Step Closer to Using Lasers for Ship Defense

The U.S. Navy is one step closer to developing a ship-mounted laser capable of defending against everything from swarms of speedboats to anti-ship missiles.

After more than two decades of research, scientists at Los Alamos National Lab last month demonstrated the technology, known as a Free Electron Laser, needed to generate a one megawatt beam that could one day provide light-speed close-in defense of Navy ships.

From the Virginian-Pilot newspaper:

“Until now, we didn’t have the evidence to support our models,” Dinh Nguyen, senior project leader for the Free Electron Laser program at the New Mexico lab, said in a news release.

The free-electron laser works by passing a beam of high-energy electrons, generated by an injector, through a series of strong magnetic fields. The result is an intense emission of laser light.

“The FEL is expected to provide future U.S. Naval forces with a near-instantaneous laser ship defense in any maritime environment throughout the world,” Quentin Saulter, program manager for the Office of Naval Research said in the release.

The laser’s speed will be a benefit to a ship that needs to react to moving or swarming targets. And it provides an effective alternative to using expensive missiles against low-value targets, a release from the Navy said.

The system could even be used as a sensor or for target designation and “disruption.”

Still the system’s got a long way to go before it hits the fleet. The Navy’s moving to test out a 100 kilowatt version of the laser soon and it will be 2018 at the earliest before the Office of Naval Research expects to test out a prototype on a ship.

Here’s the article.

37 Comments on "Navy One Step Closer to Using Lasers for Ship Defense"

  1. A "laser"

  2. High Energy Lasers = Nuclear Power.
    Nuclear Power = No More Hippies holding back our Navy

    All we need to do to move this forward is a massive pot arrest on capital hill


    The new tech is the leverage. DEW and hypersonics will change everything by the end of the decade provided Congress doesn't stop the funding…..

  4. And those poor Chinese just caught up to the OTH cruise missile generation with their "Carrier Killer", this news must suck for them and their billion dollar investment in the project…Confucius say Sh@#

  5. As I said elsewhere, keep screaming about the J-20. Act like we'll reopen the Raptor line and feed our allies in the Far East because we are SO scared. The future is another reality and getting there first is critical. I deeply suspect that what we the public "know" about our present R&D is the tip of the iceberg, though Congress could severely slow the speed we are reaching forward. What nation on earth already has a targeting system and turret that can hit targets from the sky with a high powered laser. DEW is already going into the field.

    One energy solution for ABL systems would be energy capacitors that can be recharged in flight by ground or air-based DEW such as tight microwave. Perhaps a DEW absorbing skin. Wouldn't the Chinese find that ironic? This approach as well as advanced electronics, radar, jammers, hypervelocity and rail are the things China worries about. The things they will try to steal…..

  6. Test Laser on AEGIS cruiser or Perry class FFG, or new LPD NY class?
    But have turbine use other fuel for Power.
    Or use seawater hydro turbines in hull???

  7. Aside from the graphic reminding me of Verne's Nautilus, or at least several folks' conception of it, I'm thinking fair weather weapon. How badly would foul weather reduce it's effectiveness? That's a rhetorical question, I don't really expect an accurate answer…

  8. I wonder how long the laser has to be on target to make an incoming go boom. The fact that the laser gets from ship to target faster doesn't mean that it is a faster way to hit a large number of targets than say a CIWS.

  9. All that needs to be moved to acquire next target is small turret with few lenses/mirrors, much more agile than whole CIWS gun. And time needed to kill one target is much shorter. With CIWS, You need to shoot reasonable amout of bullets, until You see they hit, before switching to next target.

  10. The ultimate weapon along these lines would combine kinetics and speed of light. Since light travels faster than anything, a fraction of mass would be devastating. Kinda like a burst of coherent plasma blasting through metal with both massive heat and mass. However, such a pulse would not be as flexible in adjusting to atmospheric conditions as a tunable laser working in conjunction with a phase conjugating mirror or other devises modifying the main laser pulse with its target laser to correct for atmospheric distortion.

    Sort of like combining a rail with a laser….

  11. "Laser"? Methinks "laserS" will be needed, not just one, since the likely response to this kind of defense will be to attempt to overwhelm the ship's defenses with vast numbers of missiles/projectiles, so future ships will need at least one on each side, if not a pair on each side.

    A thought: could the free-electron laser be used to target Submarines, too? The water would attenuate most laser beams, but maybe the beam could be tuned to travel enough distance through water to do a number on any sub within say, 10 miles. Now that would be a real equalizer! It wouldn't be the old "subs and targets" routine any more.

  12. Sharks with frikin' lasers…

    Maybe it's real, maybe it's the SDI all over again

  13. Yeah, speed of light object when it hits anything WILL penetrate. Line of sight means at best 50 miles if it's high mounted on a ship. Don't think bad weather would affect it cause who attacks in bad weather? Wonder if angles will effect the burn through of the Laser? Which also begs the question, if it hits a shell splash in the water… Or a chaff balloon?

  14. The DoDs new policy of buying equipment that costs more but is less effective has breathed a whole new life into a lot of retro technology – such as lasers.

    Here we have a bunch of researchers who are making hay from America's increasing nostalgia for the 50s. Good luck to them, American scientists have a long history of exploiting DoD gullibility to get basic science done.

    But the physics is a joke. You have to lase for 6 seconds to deliver the same energy as a single phalanx shell. So while the cost of making projectiles smart and guided falls at an increasing rate. The DoD is interested in the ultimate "dumb gun".

  15. George Bradshaw | January 24, 2011 at 12:51 am | Reply

    This time let us guard this technology and not give it away so that our enamies can use it against us like we always do.

    Clinton gave away our long range missel tech. to China. Lets not repeat the same mistake.

  16. Meh, project Shiva Star sounded cooler

  17. Many are opposed to the resurrection of the whole "nuclear cruiser" concept but I believe with such technologies emerging we need to take a serious second look.

    Weren't the Virgina class CGNs rather successful in service?

  18. Guys, Phalanx type CIWS use internal ammo storage that takes a long time to reload. The Navy normally mounts 1 CIWS covering about 270 degrees of the ship from the stern in frigates. Dstroyers and Cruisers are blessed with one on each side. No overlap in missile coverage. Carriers usually have 3-4 with very little overlap. Essentially, no Navy vessel has more than one 1 CIWS covering any threat axis. Phalanx mounts are mounted on universal joints so hey can spin and elevate quickly. They carry about 20 bursts of 50 rounds. and CANNOT be reloaded in combat. They are currently being replaced by 9 shot RAM launchers that cannot be reloaded in combat. A weapon that does not run out of ammo would be nice.

  19. Having a “mix” of different defensive armament would be a better stratagy till all the bugs are worked out to begin with. Laser for extreme LOS defense, RAMs for mid range, and Phalanx for anything that gets past the first two layers. Same reason I suggested the test bed for the rail guns should be a heavy/battle cruiser or a battleship…so if the new sci fi guns fail, you can switch over to the old standbys to complete mission and get the ship out of harm’s way.

    “Ruttin’ lasers!”

  20. Russia might have this technology already. Just buy it from them.

  21. The time on target for a laser to burn through or deform and make ineffective depends on the material. Obviously burning through an engine block would take much longer than punching holes in a fiberglass boat like Iran is building. However what is the most effective area of an attacking speedboat armed with cruise missles to target. Sinking is not enough if they still have time to fire missiles.

  22. I work with metal cutting lasers in the 3KW range. The big thing is how much wattage you can put in a given diameter and what you want to do with it. Softening an area takes much less power/sq than does cutting it. If all you want to do is to heat an area to several hundred degrees (burning through insulation/detonating explosives/propellant, etc) that takes even less power per square so you could have a large beam size do the job quite well. It doesn't necessarily mean cutting through metal, but if the optics are up to the task, then a wide beam focussed dynamically would work fine.

  23. Just like all other weapon technology, someone with a need for $$$ will probably sell us out with no care about our Country. The best weapons we have mean nothing, if we can't stop the giving away of our technology. Just look at the Stealth technology which someone sold to the Chinese? They now have it on their planes too. Yes, the guy got a long prison term, but the Chinese got the info they wanted. The U.S. cannot keep a secret. What a shame. The technology we need to develop is "HOW TO KEEP A SECRET"

  24. Hang anyone who gives the design away to enemy.

  25. We just all need to get along….

  26. the key to this plan is the giant laser. It was invented by the noted Cambridge physicist Dr. Parsons. Therefore, we shall call it the Alan Parsons Project.

  27. Negatives of Direct Energy Devices:-
    1. Current laser devices loose focused energy due to distance and cloud/mist.
    2. Due to current low energy at focus (on target), the laser needs to stay on the target for a period of time.
    This entails the pointing system of the laser to be extremely accurate to provide a steady focus on one point of a target.
    The accuracy of the point device has to increase by a magnitude to also compensate for evasive movement of the target and movement of the vehicle carrying the laser (ship, plane ground vehicle).
    3. Cheap counter measures of a target by increasing its reflectivity (mirrored surface) and/or to spin it (practical for missiles and shells.
    4. Energy requirements are vast to provide a damaging amount of energy on target. If the Energy is stored in capacitors, it will still need a period of time to be replenished allowing the weapon to be only fired in bursts which are time dependant on store replenishment.
    5. Reflective beam directors (mirrors for pointing the beam), loose their cohesion at high energy states; the more energy you pump into the beam the more chance the pointing mirror will be destroyed.

  28. Benefits of Direct Energy Devices:-
    1. The device mention in the article uses electrons in a coherent beam, not light. Its beam would not be dissipated by clouds/mist and would burn through.
    2. A beam of high energy electrons impacting a target would need less time to damage the target due to the higher energy the beam carries. The energy of a laser is in the heat liberated from the focused light, the energy of the high energy electron beam would be kinetic and heat, providing robust damage in a shorter time.
    A pointing device needs higher accuracy the greater distance to a target, to reduce the need for such accuracy in a pointing device, the tactical deployment of such a system would dictate it be used most effectively at extremely short range and therefore as a replacement for close in weapon systems currently deployed on warships, not to replace long range anti aircraft missiles.

  29. Benefits of Direct Energy Devices:- (continued…)
    3. The energy focused on a target would not be reflected by a mirrored surface due to the kinetic force of the impacting electrons, the surface of the target would be pitted/roughened in a short time. Spinning a target to spread the energy would slow the amount of energy impacting any single point, but once the energy (at such short distance) had weakened the target surface, the spin will act against the target causing its structure to fail under the combine centrifugal force and weakened skin.
    4. Storeage of energy will advance with deployable superconducting capacitors currently been developed by the car industry for electric vehicles. These will allow extremely fast charge, and discharge without the issues of inefficentcy caused by componenet heating.
    5. High energy electron beams are not directed by mirrors, they are focused by magnets, similar to those in the back of an old tube TV (not flatscreen).

    In a nutshell, if the tactical use of a high energy weapon is correctly established (CIWS relacement), they could be shortly deployed.

  30. Work with Iran engineers it can be sorted within 2 years

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