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BAE Putting Lasers on Mk 38 Naval Gun

by John Reed on July 25, 2011

So, BAE Systems and Boeing have teamed up to add lethal lasers to the already tricked out Mk 38 chain gun system used for close-in defense on U.S. Navy ships.

In March, BAE — maker of the MK 38 system (shown above) — recieved a contract to build a demo laser system to show that such a weapon could work. Now, they’ve teamed with Boeing to produce that gun/laser demo weapon.

BAE’s Mk 38 25 mm chain gun system was originally designed to be manually aimed and fired. However, the latest version of the system, dubbed the Mk 38 Mod 2,  is completely remote-controlled using an electro-optitical/infrared sensor ball and laser range finder to find and track targets.  Add a laser to this system and it could be even deadlier when engaging fast moving targets such as UAVs or speedboats.

From a BAE-Boeing announcement:

The Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System couples a solid-state high-energy laser weapon module with the operational Mk 38 Machine Gun System. The addition of the laser weapon module brings high-precision accuracy against surface and air targets such as small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. The system also provides the ability to deliver different levels of laser energy, depending on the target and mission objectives.

Boeing and BAE Systems have been working together for the past two years to develop this capability. In 2010, Boeing DES conducted two experiments in the field to demonstrate the system’s ability to track surface targets and maintain a laser aimpoint with high precision.

Check out this video of Boeing’s work to built a laser-machine gun version of its Avenger air defense system. It features a Mk 38-style 25 mm cannon and a laser in addition to a number of other surface-to-air missiles.

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

Ragin Cajun July 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Friggin' LAZERS!!!!!!!!

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blight July 25, 2011 at 2:44 pm

What's the effective range of the laser? If we can pack a laser into point defense, is it time to look into packing one into fighter craft? And if turret-mounted, there may be a place for them as a defensive weapon on slower aircraft, like tankers, cargo planes and bombers.

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jeffdg August 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm

i think everyone must have misread what the laser is for … it is to enhance their guidance system so they can lock onto a target. the laser is not used as a defensive weapon. we've had lasers and detectors on military aircraft for a long time already.

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usa July 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

wow no one can touch usa now

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ralexnicholas July 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Damn STR8! Nobody!

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usa!usa! September 5, 2011 at 1:09 am

I agree :) "Mess with the best die like the rest"

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STemplar July 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

The combination system is interesting. Even were the laser to not necessarily destroy the target could it be used to increase its thermal signature and make some infra red seeker missile more accurate,or degrade the target so the chain gun is more effective.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 12:43 am

It would be terrible to have a fast-traveling laser slaved to a slow-traversing mount. Hoping they think about that…

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STemplar July 26, 2011 at 3:51 am

Have you seen the CIWS in motion? That's rhetorical, because it is far from slow moving.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgpQBZF2sZQ

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slashandburn July 26, 2011 at 9:46 am

I'm just watching it spray rounds at a missile, and hoping that the laser will have better first-shot kill capability. It seems to be tracking rather slow, but that's probably due to the target being at long range.

Future opponents may use cruise missiles that reduce detection envelope by flight profiles (skim-and-top-attack) or by low-observable materials. If the range is only 3-4 km, then we will continue to rely on RAM for long-range engagement.

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slashandburn July 26, 2011 at 9:54 am

The "Typhoon Weapon System" (Mk 38 when translated from Israeli to American procurement) is not intended for anti-missile defense, and will likely traverse slower than Phalanx, with tighter traverse (apparently +/-120) and elevation (+40, -12.5). Not intended for the same missions, unless they want to redesign Mk38 when they already have Phalanx (which wouldn't surprise me at all…)

I find it curious that laser CIWS isn't receiving more press, especially as we re-orient towards potential nation-state combat (Hezbollah being the curious non-nation state player with anti-ship cruise missiles).

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brian July 25, 2011 at 4:51 pm

the point is to detonate the warhead or scramble the circuits/optics of the incoming missile. If not, hit it with fire.

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blight July 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

There's an emphasis on "small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles", moreso than stuff CIWS would cover (like missiles).

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Flying Rasta July 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Yes, seeing that most of the US recent conflict have mainly been in asymmetric warfare. Recent threats to the Air-Sea doctrine has really come from China and Middle East with the proliferation of UAVs. Without information you cant target.

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brian July 26, 2011 at 9:42 am

Same deal, a small boat if a combatant is highly combustable filled with munitions. If the laser can't get the boat, the gun will

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Alton July 25, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Well if the bad guys are looking down the laser and losing their eyesight too, they are probably thinking that "yep they are locked on us. when will they turn loose?". So it could have it's advantages..

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citanon July 26, 2011 at 3:17 am

Well if the MK 38 gun manages to cause fuel leaks and leaks of other types of flammables the laser could ignite them. However, wouldn't incendiary rounds do the trick?

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Bhu July 26, 2011 at 6:33 am

HE-Incendiary is already the standard mk38 round

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citanon July 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Exactly my point.

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Mastro July 28, 2011 at 10:00 am

Well- one big advantage of going to lazers is that electrical energy is safer that WP rounds.

let's face it- ammo is dangerous.

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Oblat July 26, 2011 at 6:58 am

This is just a beat up of adding a laser dazzeler to the mount. There is no scenario where you would use both at the same time and no possibility since they have completely different pointing requirements. There is no need to have such a slow heavy mount for a laser, it's just a way to add a low value device (the laser) to an existing mount's targeting system. For a small improvement in capability that cant justify it's own mount.

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 8:33 am

This has been out in the news for a while, at least the testing part. The range on this laser is miles. It is pretty much the same laser that lit that speed boat on fire a while back.

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Cheesed July 26, 2011 at 8:52 am

Are you sure? I'm not sure that you're sure. See Oblat's post above, and my surprisingly-not-thumbs-downed post earlier.

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 9:06 am

Yes I am sure. To answer your above question, the range is expected to be about 10km due to the limitations of the Mk 30 mod 2 sights. Here is the link: http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,229554,0

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 9:06 am

btw, that is an April 2011 article if you check the date, so yes, out for a while.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 9:42 am

"The Mk 38's current electro-optical/infrared fire-control system would be used for initial detection of small boats, for example, at ranges of about 10 km. Targeting would then shift to the optics within the laser beam director at about 8 km.

"That gives a high-resolution capability to determine how many crewmen there are on a small boat, if they have weapons and what kind of weapons they are," says John Perry, BAE Systems' manager of business development for advanced systems. "We then transition to a low-power, eye-safe, green-laser, visual interruption mode."

If the threatening behavior continues, there are more options available to the defenders. "We can switch to the [10-kw] high-energy laser mode and start to engage at 3-4 kilometers," Perry says."

Unless I read the quote wrong, they are talking detection at 10km, optics at 8km (with a "visual interruption mode", aka blinding or dazzler) and the 10kw laser at 3-4km.

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 9:46 am

yes, I meant more that the tracking would begin at 10km, that is my mistake in the way I wrote it. The effective engagement range isn't an exceddingly long distance, but this is first gen systems being deployed on an exsisting platform. Better than when they try and take a system to self-sufficient and just what they want, then it is too expensive and never gets fielded. Baby steps are the best way to go here.

Mart July 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

Meh, according to Middle East conspiracy experts Israel already uses lasers to direct sharks attacks. This sounds like scrap yard technology..though admittedly it still is a very big step forward.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 9:57 am

…que?

Considering most of Israel's enemies have been land powers, directing shark attacks is probably a big waste of time. However, the world has no shortage of conspiracy theorists; and the need for government secrecy makes even the strangest things half, quarter or tenth-true.

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dr evil July 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

They are land attacks becasue of they know of the lurking sharks with FRIKKEN LAZERS!

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slashandburn July 26, 2011 at 10:14 am

I wonder if the Avenger turret (mfr: Boeing) can be used shipboard for point defense. Granted, they don't have independent tracking capability but they are lighter, presumably cheaper and could be tied into a central target acquisition system, allowing for more mounts. We may once again find ourselves in an awkward position where our pre-war ships are lacking in air defense, the position the world's navies were in before WW2. While we can deploy RAM, Standards, Sea Sparrows and last-ditch CIWS in lieu of clusters of Bofors, we may run out of missiles on long deployments or deal with large missile swarms that no surface navy has ever trained to deal with.

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Sanem July 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm

this is but a hint of the future

less than 10 years from now lasers will be used for air defence by ground and sea units

they'll shoot down anything comming at them, be it fired from ground level (shells, mortars, missiles) but especially from the air (bombs, missiles)

combined with long range missiles and other air defences, this will give ground/sea units a huge advantage, able to project an impenetrable area which long range attacks cannot hope to penetrate

this will give the West an excellent defence against upcomming long range weapon systems (balistic missiles, UAVs), but will also potentially degrade Western air surpremacy against major powers like Russia and ofcourse China (having all those stealth aircraft won't help much when your bombs and missiles can't even reach their targets)

btw, laser on aircraft is only useful for air-to-air combat, to shoot down missiles and enemy aircraft at short range. against ground/sea targets they'll face more numberous, thougher and more powerful enemy lasers+other weapons, meaning they'll always be at a disatvantage

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Oblat July 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

yea sounds like 1990

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blight July 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Without the "networked", "transformational", "integrated" and other '90s buzzwords.

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Rob July 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Someday i see lasers on heliodrones. As you say mostly air to air effective but when hovering would provide perimeter protection for our naval fleets where its needed most.

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Jim Singleton July 28, 2011 at 10:12 am

I agree completely with your prediction. Problem is when the Chinese and Russians deploy the same air defense laster systems, and then of course start exporting them to anybody able to pay (Iran, Syria, North Korea…) now the West loses the primary military advantage its held for over 50 years now, air superiority.

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anonimouse9 May 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Or that's when we start flying planes that bend light around them and look invisible. The technology already exists in labs, therefore it will…eventually… evolve to a useful size/power-need and be militarized. (Let alone, just using mirror plating and other defenses ).

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Pepsi4all July 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm

why not make billions and cut lawn grass with lasers. It could put a lot of lawn workers out of work though.

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Eric July 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I think a big advantage would be reduced need for consumables/ ammo on a nuclear ship if the laser could decrease dependence on projectile weapons.

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Navy Hater July 28, 2011 at 2:23 am

You guys are idiots. The LASER is for range finding and helps develop the fire control solution for the weapons system.

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wyntrout July 28, 2011 at 4:50 am

Amen! It ain't a beam weapon! I have a laser on my Kahr K9… Laser Grips. It's for aiming.
We also use lasers as target illuminators for laser seeking/tracking missles and artillery shells… old stuff. And of course, it has been used for ranging for a long time.

Being a former aviator(bombardier-type) I don't like the idea of burning guys eyes out with lasers.

Beam weapons are big and heavy… the power requirements are tremendous.

Wyntrout

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gfh August 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm

agreed, idiots

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Jim Singleton July 28, 2011 at 10:12 am

now how about shields?

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Tony Baloney August 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Lasers don't work under the water….Submarines FTW!

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walt August 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Article writer needs to work on their spelling skills. Same for proofreader if there was one.

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justin June 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

look long story I keep trying to save this object by green laser theyv dissapeard well now back in same f in damn cordance night time x cept what did they bring with them there fff in pist how does this thing no to go to same cordnance east south to south west from fresno night sky….. I’m the N.I.A intell agency I’ve been studying this same pattern for years I’m not just some kid of the block havong……….§££ SUNIBIRU

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 9:11 am

Lockheed Martin has already begun plans to fit a laser similar to this one (but perhaps a bit larger) into the space currently used on the F-35b for its lift fan. Then you would have a conventional take off and landing jet with an internal laser. To fire they would drop a dome out the bottom, much like Boeing's ABL in their larger defensive version. Not arguing the merit of that idea, just saying they are already going there.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

So basically the marines will be choosing between laser and lift fan? That'll be a treat. JSF-A has internal cannon storage, and -B and -C use external gun pods. Do we expect first gen laser to be prohibitively large that a conformal gun pod is just a bad idea?

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 9:42 am

well no the marines probably wouldn't buy that one, it would be another AF variant (like they need another short ranged plane). I'm not saying I like the platform, just saying they are discussing it.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 9:59 am

I recall the initial discussions mentioning spooling power from the engine the same way JSF-B did and using it to power a laser, but I never thought it would involve substituting the lift fan.

Makes you wonder if that is the cause for JSF-B's recent redesign issues. Or it might be one in the near future. Until we can design lasers in from the start, our focus in laser weapons should be miniaturization and sizing to plug into our legacy units (or crossing fingers and hoping that laser weapons design allows us to do so).

Managing technological transitions is always tricky. Hopefully it won't set us too far back.

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 10:04 am

IDk if it has anything to do with the delay, I doubt it since it is mostly just in computers at the moment, there isn't a significant amount of effort in it yet. The reason they are doing it the way they are is because the lift fan space is the only one big enough to fit the system, and the driveshaft that they need to drive the laser generator unit already runs there for the lift fan. The biggest problem they are having (which they are saying isn't a problem) is dealing with the heat the laser and generator create. The LM engineers say they can dump it into the fuel and there is a lot to spare so that supposedly isn't a problem. My problem with it is the lack of range, with the B variant having quite an anemic range. But I suppose it is all in what you intend to do with it.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 10:04 am

The Bushmaster's range is given as 3km effective and 6.8km maximum. I wonder about the yawning gap between 8km dazzler mode and 4 km engagement…

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 10:06 am

It may be that is all they want to claim for testing purposes until it is fielded. Plus, the atmosphere does bad things with lasers.

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Alex July 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm

You forgot OPSEC

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Fair enough, but that's a give in, I was referring more to the later range that will be released.

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blight July 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm

If they're using fuel as their coolant, what happens when an aircraft is running low on fuel? Degraded or no laser performance when they are at their most vulnerable? I guess that means better fuel planning is required…

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Tyler July 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Agreed. But yes, most aircraft that produce large amount of heat (more so than just the jets) dumps that into the fuel system because it is better if the fuel is pre-heated anyway.

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