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Navy Moving Ahead With Effort to Put Lasers on Ships

by John Reed on May 10, 2012

After decades and decades of research and experimenting, the time has finally come to add deadly lasers to U.S. Navy ships’ arsenals, the sea service has decided.

That’s right, the Office of Naval Research is moving forward with a plan to arm ships with solid state lasers capable of taking out small enemy vessels that could be used in swarming attacks or suicide bombing mission against American warships.

“We believe it’s time to move forward with solid-state lasers and shift the focus from limited demonstrations to weapon prototype development and related technology advancement,” said Peter Morrison, program officer of the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation program in a May 8 press release announcing the effort.

ONR wants to capitalize on the work it’s done with BAE Systems to marry lasers to the Mk 38 chain guns that are already used to defend ships. The latest versions of that weapon system can be remotely controlled and tied to a number of video and infrared sensors. As we’ve said before, combining all that with lasers will make the naval versions of the Mk 38 all the more deadly to anyone who gets the wrong idea while piloting a small boat near an American warship.

Want to sell your laser to the Navy? You’re in luck, ONR is hosting an industry day on May 16 “to provide the research and development community with information about the program,” reads the service’s announcement.  Potential laser-dealers can expect a request for proposals soon after that, according the announcement.

Click through the jump for video of one of ONR’s experimental lasers frying the engines of a small boat.

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{ 97 comments… read them below or add one }

Ralph May 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm

What's the advantage to naval laser weapons? If you can direct a laser onto an aircraft or vessel you can also hit it with a projectile, and a cannon is a heck of a lot cheaper and more reliable.

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Alex May 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm

We could also navigate by sextant, instead of GPS. Would you make the same argument there for dated technology?

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DGR May 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Cannon fire is inaccurate and subject to rocking waves. Lasers are light speed, if your lined up on the boat when your fire, you will not miss. So basically you have a higher probablility of a hit. Its experimental technology though, eventually I see it being used for missle defense where a laser could fire and destroy targets faster than current systems. But it will take time to develop so dont expect it to work right away.

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TrustButVerify May 11, 2012 at 4:45 am

One question would be "dwell time," by which I mean the amount of time you need to illuminate the target in order to achieve a kill. I recognize that this depends on a lot of variables (the nature of the target, range, laser power, atmospheric factors, what counts as "kill"….oy!) but the laser weapons currently in testing all appear to require a second or two of dwell time to achieve kills. Those are kills against boosting rockets, and mortar shells, or piles of lumber. Can a rocking platform hold the beam on a rocking target long enough to get the desired result, in most weather conditions, and with better performance than a cannon? That's the question, and it's complicated, and so far the answer seems to be "no."

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 8:59 am

I was posting that eventually it will be a more powerful system capable of incapacititaing a target very quickly. Current systems need a lot of work, but they are a good starting point for future tech. Future tech would need to focus on lethality, and ability to regenerate enough power quickly enough for follow on "shots" at multiple targets. Theorietically lasers provide the fastest possible time to target of any weapon system, its just a matter of what happens when the laser hits said target.

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moose May 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Also like to point out that an SSL doesn't run out of Ammo so long as the ship has power.

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Thomas L. Nielsen May 11, 2012 at 1:50 am

"….an SSL doesn't run out of Ammo so long as the ship has power"

And a way to cool the laser, since a weapons-grade SSL will produce copious amounts of waste heat. But since ships (in all but the most unfortunate instances) are floating around on the world's largest heat sink, this ought not to be much of an issue.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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passingby May 11, 2012 at 7:07 am

one more way to destroy the already devastated environment which humans depend on for survival.

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

You think using sea water to cool a laser is going to devestate the enviroment? Thine tin foil is on a bit too tight dear sir.

Batman May 12, 2012 at 8:39 am

Fck the environment.

STemplar May 11, 2012 at 2:34 am

Instant gratification coupled with the ability to more quickly address larger numbers of targets.

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Stix May 16, 2012 at 5:48 am

Ralph: You never need to reload – you have plenty of "Ammo" a Laser is much faster to hit its target 186K Miles Per second, it shoots straighter no matter what the windage, Therefore the odds of hitting that target in a millisecond is a lot greater given the up and down movement of the ocean waves.
1: No Munitions to carry, saves on weight. Ship is faster, lighter and more efficient.
BTW you never need to resupply on Munitions – CHEAPER, and Better – ever hear Bugs Bunny say it NO MORE BULWETS ah too bad..
2: No munitions to buy, Cheaper.
3: No Munitions to possibly explode on your ship – SAFER.
4: Faster time to target, quicker kill time.
5: Straighter and faster to target more accurate.
6: Not affected by windage or ocean rolling during firing cycle for the split second aim / fire.
Is that good enough for starters.

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DEATH May 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hooah to you.

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George Kraus March 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Hi all,

Are you forgetting laser injury to the eyes? I don't think the Navy want to admit it publicity, but any high powered laser, Class IV, will blind anyone, just like shining a flashlight at ya. The Russians know that well. The video of burning a "floating" boat is sarcastic. In reality, ti would be moving fast, at least 40 plus knots. Flash laser of the boat crew will render them useless, if they are looking at the ship.

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bob May 10, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Well, in theory, if you have a nuclear reactor and a laser, you get many more"shots" than you would with a cannon using traditional munitions. Plus you would not have a powder magazine to be blown up on your own ship.

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TrustButVerify May 11, 2012 at 4:51 am

Depends on the laser, though. Is it solid state? Chemical? NUCLEAR PUMPED X-RAYS?

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Batman May 12, 2012 at 8:42 am

All of the above, please. "SAY CHEESE" will be the war cry.

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DB-1 May 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

This just seems to be the natural progression or evolution of weapons and warfare and it was bound to happen one day.

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tiger May 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Set Phasers to stun Mr. Spock…..

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Andy May 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Air Force shoud have this too.

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DGR May 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Lasers could replace missles. If they found a way to delivier enough energy for a single milisecond kill they would replace missles for sure. Again, light speed, no waiting 5 min for a long range missle to reach target, and no way to evade once you are locked on and the laser is inbound. But I see that tech being at least a few decades away from trial.

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tiger May 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm

One problem… A laser is a line of sight weapon. You can't bend that beam over the horizion. So the missile still has a place.

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Alex May 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Simply mount a Phase conjugat system (mirror) on a UAV. Now you can expand your range of fire beyond he visible horizon. Ship fire towards the drone, then reflected towards the end target solves that problem. It would also put further use on our UAV fleet.

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ziv May 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Tiger, from 40,000 feet your line of sight is nearly
God-like!
;-)
I don't think lasers will replace missiles anytime soon, but they will be a nice weapon to have at your disposal. But I do think that lasers fit the airforce better in some ways than the navy, but the navy has the power needed and the ability to carry larger weapons.

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 10:13 am

Ahh, very true for long range ICBMs and the like. I wasnt clear, I was thinking a fighter armed with a laser for taking out other fighters. Definetly decades in the future, but the concept is slowly becoming a reality.

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guest May 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm

the air force had a 747 they were planning on using for ballistic missle defense. that fell through though. I think they are still doing weapons testing and progression for the ABL. but its just a test bed at this point

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Big-Rick May 10, 2012 at 7:07 pm

FYI guest, the ABL is officially retired as of Feb 14th

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Lance May 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Now we can microwave our suicide Iranian boaters and fill them with holes at the same time.

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Mastro May 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm

It can ignite their crotch bombs at long range!

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Sgt_Buffy May 10, 2012 at 4:32 pm

This is what you put on large cargo ships! Fire hoses and lasers, no pirate will stand in our way!

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octopusmagnificens May 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Mythbusters tested one of these weapons. It failed.

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Keep in Mind May 11, 2012 at 7:56 am

Mythbusters don't follow the Scientific Method at all, they're a fun TV show, but I wouldn't quote or source them.

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blight_ May 11, 2012 at 8:49 am

They try, but more controlled environments are required, which get in the way of enjoyment value.

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Mastro May 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Take an optics class- lasers are MUCH hotter than polished brass sun reflections.

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passingby May 13, 2012 at 6:06 am

+1 to octopusmagnificens.

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Will May 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm

The thinking may be to field test (water test?) the technology by way of use against small boats as part of the development process. Supersonic sea skimming cruise missiles & anti-ship ballistic missiles are difficult targets for both cannons & defensive missiles. Lasers have the potential to be the best defensive weapon.

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UAVgeek May 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I want my wave motion gun =(

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tiger May 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Damn, I loved that show. My intro to modern Anime.

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DB-1 May 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Yeah! me too

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UAVGeek May 11, 2012 at 11:54 am

Guess I'll have to settle for Shock Cannons first.

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Roland May 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm

And probably if we add .Buratino Heavy Flame Thrower System like the one from T-72 on every boats and ship we have, it could become more competitive than any Chinese and Russians missile boats and ships.

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tiger May 11, 2012 at 7:58 am

Your joking right?

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm

We wouldnt want to light the water on fire, we might hurt the poor innocent fish or even risk lighting a whale on fire! Or heaven forbid we burn some seaweed!

*Insert* screems of horror from the nearest hippie

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blight_ May 11, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Think of the peace-loving plankton harmed by your collateral damage!!!

/satire

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SJE May 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Hitting a flat, black engine bobbing in the water is not a good approximation of defending yourself against swarming speedboats or missile.

At the same time, this looks like a good future prospect, but I want projectiles as my backup. At least with a gun + laser combo, the laser can attack the target for the few seconds it takes for the projectiles to arrive.

This is like the early cannons and guns, which were heavily backed up by archers and pikemen

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Scott May 10, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Big-Rick – I agree…time to get some operational experience even if the technology isn't quite ready.

Eventually, directed energy weapons will re-shape the battlefield to one of "if you can see it, you can kill it". This will have a significant impact on naval aviation as well, because any aircraft that comes within line-of-sight of a laser turret is toast.

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Matt May 12, 2012 at 7:39 am

Unless of course you paint your plane with mirrored paint….
ant it is waaaay cheaper than the laser.

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blight_ May 12, 2012 at 8:17 am

If the laser is sufficiently powerful, it just heats the area locally until it shatters.

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Michael January 14, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Dear Scott, Your use of the quote "If you can see it, you can kill it." is unintentionally appropriate due to the fact that lasers used in war will lead to huge armies of permanently blind soldiers. This is something that the weapons developers don't want you to know yet as their products might be banned like the poison gases of World War One."Not quite ready" is an understatement. Those that applaud such developments are politically lame.

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Big-Rick May 10, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I think the point of getting the weapon system on-board ships is so that they (sailors) can start training on them realistically, even though the system isn't mature yet.

This testing and feedback will allow the designers/engineers to make improvements and upgrades.

You can only do so much testing in a lab environment

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stephen russell May 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Must for CG, FF, DD types & USCG cutters alone
& for carrier defense (air & sea).
& reuse old shore fortresses to house Lasers like those that held turn of century hiding guns. Awesome.
& mount into SSN sub sail???

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Ralphie May 11, 2012 at 12:01 am

Sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!

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Mastro May 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

the Ultimate Weapon

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Dr Evil May 11, 2012 at 3:10 am

Yeah…blah blah blah … so how's that work on my mirror? Dumb²

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labanda May 11, 2012 at 4:59 am

i think it´s more future rail gun than laser.

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Laserjock May 11, 2012 at 7:58 am

The laser would be best used against the hull of a speedboat…would penetrate much faster and a sinking boat is no longer a threat. Plus, anyone who does not believe these weapons could not in a matter of milliseconds disable an operator, or would not be used in that fashion is dreaming. If you see your comrade in the boat next you and see his uni go up in flames….I guarantee you that would send them scrambling.

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Fukdafed May 11, 2012 at 8:21 am

It really isn't too hard to hit a target that's not moving. I'm sure the enemy is going to say, "Oh, the U.S. Navy is firing a laser at us. Let's stop and give them an easy shot at our engines!" It's too soon people!

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thats not what it was ment to show. Its ment to show a capability is there, a capability that needs refined, but a proof of concept. Testing goes on from here.

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anonimouse9 May 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Too soon?
Ummm….. do you have ANY idea of the state of our technology?

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blight_ May 25, 2012 at 8:48 pm

You don't wait for weapons to fully mature before deploying them. Nobody waited for rifling before rolling out smoothbore weapons or for them to be better than longbows. They were initially fielded, found a niche reason to be and grew from a niche to the dominant form of weapon.

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WarPony May 11, 2012 at 8:31 am

Didn't appear to be much bang for the buck.

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woody May 11, 2012 at 9:25 am

The Navy will keep all its projectile weapons, these lasers will only be onboard as another option until they can "fire phasers"….or launch a full spread "photon torpedos"….

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SJE May 11, 2012 at 11:12 am

Agreed. I think that part of the benefit of the lasers is that enemies will not know the full capability of the weapon and therefore gives a psychological advantage to the US. DE is also very useful against warheads, which are more sensitive to heat: the US showed this more than 10 years ago.

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LeeRetArmy May 11, 2012 at 11:28 am

This is an old video saw this a while ago on youtube. I would think they have progressed since then and if they are considering fielding the system I am sure they have the targeting systems in place to track a moving target for the duration needed to cause damage remember an incoming missile or high trajectory projectile would be far easier to track than a boat or an aircraft that could manuver.

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TMB May 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm

They probably have come farther, but don't have a cool video to show. The US and I think Israel have experimented and successfully shot mortars and artillery shells out of the sky with lasers so the high-speed targetting and tracking exists. Disabling or destroying something as large as a military vessel is still down the road, but thin-skinned things like missiles, shells, and some boats are within the realm of possible right now. Disabling that outboard motor might have taken a good minute, but imagine the collateral damage of trying to go for the same effect with a machine gun. Someone made the comment earlier of using the laser to fry comms and radars and making the enemy ship operationally useless without destroying it.

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Native Son May 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.

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StinkEye May 11, 2012 at 7:54 pm

It's maybe a great defense against super-sonic cruise missiles, especially for a carrier.

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Richard May 12, 2012 at 3:36 am

Its still not an answer to a swarm of would be Iranian attackers in dozens if not hundred of small boats and ekranoplans all attacking at once.

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Mastro May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Its better than a 25mm bushmaster that runs out of ammo in a minute or so.

Ekranoplans?!? There are about two in existence now- lets worry about actual threats please-

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Hatredcopter May 12, 2012 at 9:26 am

Here's hoping for XRAY. Could you imagine being able to sweep a ship and vaporize the crew? JUST the crew? Inside and outside of the boat.

Maybe a broad beam laser. Superheat the entire ship enough to melt barrels and VLS hatches.

Swarms? Port and starboard FLASH system. Think of the arc of a MIG welder only on a monumental scale. Instant blindness. At that kind of power you should be able to throw in some EMP and fry out the electronics. Turn that swarm of speed boats into a swarm of row boats.

We're finally, finally, getting into heavy duty technology. It's time to put the cannon to rest. It's done us a great service and I salute it every step of the way. It's been on the deathbed since the carrier proved itself in WW2 and now, soon, we can put it down completely.

Keep in mind the impressive array of new civilian tech that will be birthed from this. The laser light shows at Sea World are due for an upgrade!

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Serge May 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Laser weapons can be used during a tactical stand-off when other conventional weapon systems can not be used for reasons of diplomatic expediency, etc. Such weapons (SSL) can inflict damages to or incapacitate a small boat or an unmanned aircraft creating a moment of anxiety or momentary panic or confusion among the enemy personnel. Such a combined effect can create a tactical advantage on the battlefield. Surprise effect and stealthiness of SSL use are of paramount importance. Laser weapons are silent killers and sabotage instruments. Their psychological effect on the enemy is also considered as an element of combat effectiveness during the early period of their potential deployment. So far, it is too early to talk about laser weapons as a substitute to conventional weapon systems.

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stix May 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

How about a phase plasma rifle with a 40 kwatt range

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commiekiller June 21, 2013 at 2:25 am

if this is what they are showing us, imagine what they really have in area 51, and so

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lance thain USN ret February 19, 2014 at 6:02 pm

The latest versions of laser weapon system can be remotely controlled and tied to a number of video and infrared sensorshigh-energy, solid-state directed energy, or “laser” weapon drone shields. Atmospheric conditions (rain, visibility, turbulence) limit the effective range. One solution may be to launch a concentric circle, corridor vectored or unmanned random screen of low-cost drones that operate as a laser weapon repeaters. Tuned to sensor wavelength of the master unit, the drone captures the laser emission, refocuses and boosts the energy, then re-fires the laser to the designated target tracked by the master unit. For example. a weather front of moisture or dust cloud exists between the master laser and the target. The pulse is routed in a "zig-zag " fashion of laser booster/repeater drones capable of maintaining or boosting re-emission power. The drones are inexpensive, unmanned, and may carry/store laser booster power for a significant time aloft. In the case when the first laser drone booster is not in position to better penetrate the atmosphere, the master unit redirects emissions to a second drone with greater kill power. The master unit determines the optimal power routing based on atmospheric drone sensor feedback. Degradation of signal strength may then be minimized. Further, the shield of drones increases the effective kill distance of the master laser unit. Repeater drones are service rotated for maximum drone shield and theater coverage. The cost of the "bullet" remains the same. Repeater drones platforms are based on existing unmanned hellfire-cruise-asw multi-purpose ASW unit technology with laser module modifications. The laser "dome" could be configured to utilizes drones independently launched from in-theater land, sea and air bases. Conceivably, this routing might allow laser shots at an enroute target from a 360 degree firing profile( the target has passed and the laser emmision beam strength targets the rear, side, top or bottom of the target.)

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DGR May 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Take the USS Cole, they saw the boat, sailers trained M60s on it, but were ordered not to fire. Maybe if they had a laser……..

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Brian Black May 11, 2012 at 6:54 am

Got to walk before you run. They're not replacing bullets and shells yet, but that doesn't mean that it's a waste of time and money to fit them to a ship.
A deployment aboard a vessel should allow the boffins to evaluate laser weapons in the real environments in which the finished products will eventually operate; hopefully, lessons will be learned and a few more small steps will be made.

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Nenad May 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Laser have one advantage: it can burn electric circuits and sensors of say enemy guided projectile or aircraft. In some experiments just 20KW lasers mentioned to temporally disabled enemy systems, or say totally confuse enemy IR guided weapon. Even if it doesn't burn throw metal the enemy ship, aircraft or missile is totally disabled and than the ordinary weapon can finish it off.

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guest May 10, 2012 at 5:28 pm

damn you beat me to it

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octopusmagnificens May 11, 2012 at 7:49 am

Check Episode 157, "President's Challenge".

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 8:54 am

LMAO! You really think that was the same thing as this? LOL, ok……..

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Matrix3692 May 12, 2012 at 4:47 am

wait, you mean the legendary Archimedes’ death ray?
dude, the output of a modern military-use laser is way higher than this, ****, they weren’t even in the same scale
****, they were even different concepts to begin with.

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octopusmagnificens May 11, 2012 at 8:57 am

Direct energy weapon, sir.

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Matrix3692 May 12, 2012 at 4:55 am

dude, he really thinks so, LOL

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passingby May 11, 2012 at 9:56 am

DGR == DaGrandRetard …. enough said

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 10:15 am

While the basic concept was the same, it is vastly differant. Direct energy is scientifically valid, its just a matter of how you get enough energy onto the target in order to achieve the desired result. The Myth busters put on a good show but it far from debunked the theory that direct energy can be used as a weapon. It was more or less debunking a myth that you could use enough mirrors to acheive the same result.

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 10:23 am

I prefer DaGranderRetardish, but thanks anyways.

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DGR May 11, 2012 at 11:20 am

Rail guns for targeting anything larger than a speedboat or missles. lasers for smaller targets. Lets face it, even a 5 foot hole burned completly through a carrier isnt going to stop it from killing you (not to mention that burning through meters worth of solid steel is probably not within the relm of possability). Heck the USS Cole had a 40'x40' hole and they still kept her afloat. But take a smaller boat that cant recover from a hole/multiple holes and now you have a laser weapon that can work. But add a railgun that can punch some real holes in big ships and now we have the combo for sucess. Lasers for defensive systems, railguns for projecting real combat power!

Can we just fast forward already and arrive at that stage? Id love to see this tech mature within my lifetime…..

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passingby May 12, 2012 at 6:51 am

How about DemotedGrumpyRookie?

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passingby May 13, 2012 at 6:05 am

You mean your family tree?! I understand how you feel growing up in that miserable environment. Feel free to use guns. Make the entire family tree pay. Yehhhhhhhhhhh.

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HumanPower May 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Pfft. They'll figure it out. We're dabbling with Lasers, Solar Power, Geothermal Power, Mach 5, Railguns, the Army Doc who recently may have found that cure to cancer… Whatever the heck DARPA and those like them are dishing out. An entire grand spectrum of things more to mention.

I'm not worried in the least. A hundred years from now all this stuff will be ancient history and childsplay compared to what will be on the table then.

Keep calm and carry on. Hopefully we'll live long enough to see these techs become mastered…. Maybe even see the next birth of amazing things we will create.

Then we can look back on our long lives and laugh at ourselves for lack of faith in our ability coupled by an abundance of fear.

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passingby May 14, 2012 at 12:48 am

LOL. The extent and severity of environmental devastation has always been in proportion to human beings' so-called "technological advancement and progress"

The US has been the biggest offender in environmental crimes and things will remain the same in the foreseeable future. Am I supposed to believe that the brainless, clueless American sheeple can somehow wake up to the reality all of a sudden with true PhD caliber knowledge and wisdom to handle decades of environmental disaster? They can't even pick the proper food for themselves. LOL

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blight_ May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am

If missiles are designed to roll, it might diffuse beam damage across the casing. Wonder if lasers were tested on a rolling target to assess stopping power.

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passingby May 14, 2012 at 2:56 am

quote: "you just naturally go against anything with US label on it which you do all the time regardless and is by now your staple…"

Your false impression. Not true.

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passingby May 14, 2012 at 4:08 am

(1) comments in this forum constitutes only one facet of my opinions regarding the US.

(2) for the sake of argument, just because one holds negative opinions of US govt, military, and geopolitical policies doesn't in itself render the opinions wrong, biased, or extreme.

(3) the caliber of many posters in this forum is well below par, making their opinions highly suspect. (often they don't even read carefully what I have actually written, and respond based on what they imagine to be my position.

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passingby May 14, 2012 at 7:20 am

I was referring to this part — "LOL! further proof of the american "Government" turning against itself! No wonder they can never win a war! "

that's written by someone else.

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blight_ May 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Isn't that in turn a big assumption that all missile engagements will be dead center on nose tip? For instance, defending vessels may be engaging missiles presenting a wider target heading for a different ship: for instance, ships in a picket may be firing on a missile heading towards a carrier in the middle.

That said, the whole missiles-and-lasers thing was probably studied during ABL…but that was a while ago. And we were probably thinking of Harpoon ASMs in laser-and-missile studies and not something like BrahMos.

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blight_ May 26, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Basically, any structural failure might be enough to simply cause the missile to fly apart, and either turn into shrapnel or perhaps splash into the sea?

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