Meet ADAM: A Laser System that Protects Our Troops from Bad Guy Missiles

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I can’t get over how crazy the development of military laser technology has been lately.  There’s been a real push to create a competitor for projectile weapons.  For example, earlier this week I talked about the new German Phalanx-style laser weapon that kills drones and little metal balls from the sky.  At one time before it was abandoned, the US Air Force was working on something called the YAL-1, which was a 747 mounted with a chemical laser that was designed to kill nuclear ICBMs from a long, long distance.  I thought it was actually pretty cool, but I can understand why it was scrapped; my assumption is that they’re holding out for a more multi-burst solid state laser instead of a single-shot, highly dangerous chemical laser.

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I have to say that at one point in my life I was pretty frustrated that more money goes into military laser tech than goes into scientific research and development, or even medical laser development.  However, what I realized was that as this technology becomes more readily available via all of this defense money solving big problems up front, less than death uses and systems will “come out in the wash,” as an old colleague usually says.  Just like anything else that we steal from military technology (cable bundling, for example), at some point laser technology from military development will make its way to the civilian and private sector development.

One such system is something that Lockheed Martin calls ADAMArea Defense Anti-Munitions.  This system is designed to be towed into a hostile area where the US has set up a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, in enemy territory.  While our guys sleep and stand guard and all of those things, ADAM is watching over the area, blanketing it with radar that’s watching out for munitions coming into the area from enemy forces — mortar shells, shoulder-fired missiles, etcetera — and destroys the incoming round with a laser.  Check this out, this is a prototype test of a rocket being fired at the ADAM:

Ok, that is insane.  So right now, a system exists that can detect incoming enemy rockets and shells to a base.  Can you imagine what would happen if you were to deploy a handful of these systems across a battlefield?  That sounds like it would be a pretty awesome sight.  From a press release at Lockheed Martin’s website, they’ve also tested the ADAM against drones (UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small caliber shells:

Since August, the ADAM system has successfully engaged an unmanned aerial system target in flight at a range of approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) and has destroyed four small-caliber rocket targets in simulated flight at a range of approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

“Lockheed Martin has invested in the development of the ADAM system because of the enormous potential effectiveness of high-energy lasers,” said Doug Graham, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of advanced programs for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. “We are committed to supporting the transition of directed energy’s revolutionary capability to the war fighter.”

Designed for short-range defense of high-value areas including forward operating bases, the ADAM system’s 10-kilowatt fiber laser is engineered to destroy targets up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. The system precisely tracks targets in cluttered optical environments and has a tracking range of more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). The system has been designed to be flexible enough to operate against rockets as a standalone system and to engage unmanned aerial systems with an external radar cue. The ADAM system’s modular architecture combines commercial hardware components with the company’s proprietary software in an integrated and easy-to-operate system.

Here’s a video of the test they’re talking about, where ADAM shoots down a drone:

I for one am pretty excited to see what happens next.  This could lead to some amazing advancements in light.

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Thanks Business Insider, Army Recognition!

(The Pentagon is) BEGGIN! BEGGIN YOU-OO-OO-OOO (for A New Weaponized Laser Design)

With all of the change that’s taken place in life over the last few months, it’s sometimes been hard to pay full attention to the one thing in my existence that I am the most passionate about – different varieties of light!  This weekend I spent an entire day searching through my RSS feeds, scouring the web for information on topics I’m passionate about, and researching the status of projects across several industries.  OLED research, chemical and gas laser development, LED substrate technology, and about eleventy thousand other topics got my full attention this weekend.

Returning to some level of sanity and routine is a good thing.  Now I just have to take about a gallon of coffee out of my diet.  I really don’t see that happening any time soon…

In my research this weekend, I came across some interesting articles about the whole “flying laser” race, and how it’s developing.  Interestingly enough, it’s not really doing much of anything.  Pentagon decision makers have decided that the initial laser chosen for the flying light saber, the chemical oxygen iodine laser (or COIL), just ain’t cutting the mustard.  I find this hilarious, just because last February it shot down an in-flight ballistic missile, and I just related it to not cutting a condiment.

The real problem is that the military peeps just don’t think that it’s good enough yet.  Quite frankly, neither do I – the COIL laser that was in the YAL-1 test plane filled up every single crevice and crack on the modified Boeing 747 more than a garage of a hoarder on that show “Hoarders.”  This isn’t something that is very sustainable, and in a situation where the battlefield requires a weapon to be able to fire more than once (which the COIL laser cannot do without a land/refuel/takeoff per shot), development needs to be furthered.  However, the interesting thing about the progress of the weaponized laser is that the COIL system is a megawatt-class laser – that’s 1,000,000 watts, people.  Power doesn’t seem to be a problem, it’s packaging.

Airborne laser weapons have natural design issues to overcome, and it isn’t hard to see why the Pentagon wants to improve the package of the airborne laser.  Problems include, but are certainly not limited to:  laser payload (COIL is ridiculously inefficient, heavy, and dangerous), auto-correcting hardware to compensate the laser target acquisition and aiming stuff from the vibrations and movements in the plane in flight, and a host of other issues to protect not only the pilots but the people on the ground.

Something to understand is that the COIL laser contains a toxic, caustic, nasty payload of chemicals that get lazed  to make the laser as powerful as it is.  Scientists are trying to develop a different type of laser payload made from iodine gas (called the AGIL, or all-gas-phase iodine laser), but it seems as though Pentagon decision makers want it smaller still, and more agile, hostile, and versatile.

From a great blog that I read, The Danger Room:

Of course solid-state, or “electric” lasers are much more compact than liquid or gas lasers, and with an energy supply that “is rechargeable and clean,” according to the Air Force. But they’re typically 100 to 1,000 times less powerful.

Still, they are considered “the laser of choice in the long term,” especially the fiber-optic laser, “which integrates well with other sensors and electro-optical elements in the aerospace environment,” according to the proposal solicitation. It asks for companies to come up with novel ways to combine fiber lasers up to the kilowatt-class level — far short of the 100-kilowatt power level considered entry-level dangerous.

Eventually, a 100-kW fiber laser system could be compact enough for shorter-range tactical missions on something like a fighter jet. The Air Force is “exploring and developing several aircraft mounted high energy laser (HEL) systems for precision strike and self-defense missions.”

The Pentagon has reached out to small businesses and contractors that might not be Raytheon or Boeing sized businesses to solve their laser problems.  Military deciders are asking the smaller business leaders, which, funny enough, is where a lot of the good development on projects all over the spectrum of technology are finding their births, to solve the problems of lasers tracking targets, being powerful enough and small enough to be realistic, sensing, and generally being better than the status quo.  You have to at least look at the RFP for this project – check out the Missile Defense Agency’s Small Business Innovation Research Program document.

I’m tracking the progress of the weaponized laser because regardless of how I feel about the fact that we have lasers to destroy targets but we can’t cure cancer yet, all of the developments in the military industries affect the development of lasers and light for our peaceful industries.  A lot of things we use in the entertainment lighting industries are direct descendants of military technology, believe it or not!

Stay tuned, this is bound to be interesting.

Scanning for Explosives in Body Cavities

I wrote about some body scanning technology (backscatter and millimeter wave) that is being implemented in airports around the world a little while ago, and I just read about some new technology that is being touted as the new frontier in the area of detecting explosives…

…in the body cavities.

Oh yeah.  I cannot wait until Jon Stewart reports on this – “now there’s a scanning technology that can detect the explosive power of Semtex in your anal cavity and differentiate it from the explosive power of Taco Bell in your anal cavity.”  Le sigh.  Now we have to worry about would-be terrorists hiding explosives in their anal cavities?!  Wasn’t it bad enough that we had to be concerned about the Underpants Bomber trying to light his junk on fire to blow up a plane?

Believe it or not, there has been one reported attempt of a d-bag terrorist trying to kill somebody by hiding explosives in that place – a Saudi prince – who was attacked by some idiot called Abdullah Hassan Al Aseeri.  Aseeri stuffed an IED in the rear and went after the Saudi prince.  The prince survived, but as you can imagine, Aseeri was blown into little chunks.

Well, regardless of the situation, there’s this new tech out now called DEXI – diffraction-enhanced X-ray imaging.  Instead of just analyzing the x-rays that pass through the body or that are reflected off of the body, this new DEXI technology analyzes the x-rays that get scattered by soft tissue or other low-density material.  This technology comes to the market from a company in Crown Point, Indiana called Nesch.

From an article at Danger Room:

“Our patented technology can detect substances such as explosive materials, narcotics, and low-density plastics hidden inside or outside of the human body,” company CEO Ivan Nesch claims. DEXI allows explosives to create contrast, he adds, so it would be able to detect both the underpants bomber and the shoe bomber before they boarded.

The image above shows how a conventional radiograph does not detect two packets of “illegal materials” concealed in soft tissue, while they are plainly visible in when DEXI technology is used.

The process of taking the images, analyzing them, and then recognizing substances of interest — such as explosives — can be automated. Alerts issued can be computer-generated. Security staff would simply have to get passengers in and out of the imaging unit.

“The initial expected throughput is approximately one to two passengers a minute,” according to Nesch. “Once installed and tested in real applications, the throughput will be increased.”

One or two people per minute? Holy moly. As if we didn’t have long enough to stand in line through security now.

Why exactly does this technology work so well?  Again, Ivan Nesch – from an article at Purdue University:

“X-ray absorption is the basis of conventional radiography, but carbon, nitrogen and oxygen do not absorb X-rays well. Explosives and narcotics are typically made of these elements. Conventional radiography detects these objects poorly due to its exclusive reliance on absorption,” said Ivan Nesch, CEO. “DEXI is different because it uses X-ray refraction and scattering to construct images, along with absorption. It can detect explosives and narcotics because they noticeably refract and scatter X-rays.”

DEXI’s claim to safety fame is their corporate slogan:  “Less radiation, more information.”  Nesch claims that passengers scanned by NEXI technology are exposed to 50 times less radiation than those scanned by a conventional radiograph.  Well, at least there’s something.  I guess I’d rather have TSA looking in my behind than be dead.

An image scanned with a conventional radiograph vs. a DEXI scan:

On a lighter note, this technology makes me want to have a nice large meal of Taco Bell, KFC, and Burger King ten hours before heading to the airport so I can give the pleasant and friendly TSA employees something interesting to look at while they get to check out all kinds of my personal space.  Make sure to eat some corn.

Boeing’s High-Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator Gets A New Truck

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Charming logo.

As we all know from my somewhat sarcastic-but-still-truthful ramblings on the military’s high-energy laser program, the government spends more money on defense than they do on a pretty large percentage of anything else.  Some new information on Boeing’s High-Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) was just released, and apparently it’s still on and being funded.

Boeing was granted a $36 million dollar contract to develop the HEL TD program back in August 2008 – you might remember such other programs in this stream of laser-based weapons that the government is currently investing in like the YAL-1.

A press release on Boeing’s website tells of the new progress of the the HEL TD program – a company called Oshkosh Defense (no relation to the B’Gosh people that I can find) is making trucks that the US military uses in combat.  This company has created a new truck that Boeing is going to mount some of its HEL TD laser gear to and drive out into the desert.  From the press release:

“This demonstration program has successfully transitioned from the design phase to the fabrication phase,” said Gary Fitzmire, vice president and program director of Boeing Missile Defense Systems’ Directed Energy Systems unit. “This transformational, solid-state laser weapon capability will provide speed-of-light, ultra-precision capability that will dramatically improve warfighters’ ability to counter rocket, artillery and mortar projectiles.”

The eight-wheel, 500-horsepower HEMTT A4, a widely used military tactical vehicle, will be shipped to Boeing’s facility in Huntsville this spring for integration with the laser’s rugged beam control system (BCS). The program has already begun receiving BCS components from suppliers.

The fact that the system will use lasers to blow up “enemy” projectiles and such is pretty cool to me, actually, and at some point I will accept what I cannot change. What really sucks to me is that I often wonder things like “will we have flying cars in my lifetime?” and “will we have light sources that last for decades for real in my lifetime?”  Every time I read about the wars that are ongoing, every time I report on some new military laser project that is ongoing, the question “will I ever experience peace in my lifetime?” gets more and more faded.

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Boeing’s Advanced Tactical Laser Shoots Cars in the Hood

The HOOD, not the ‘hood.  The government would never go into the ‘hood and light up cars with a drone mounted laser.  Right?

So, as of June, the Boeing Corporation had been testing its new 25kW thin-disk laser system, which is apparently “weapons-grade” now.  From the press release at Boeing:

“Solid-state lasers will revolutionize the battlefield by giving the warfighter an ultra-precision engagement capability that can dramatically reduce collateral damage,” said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. “These successful tests show that Boeing has made solid progress toward making this revolutionary capability a reality.”

The thin-disk laser is an initiative to demonstrate that solid-state laser technologies are now ready to move out of the laboratory and into full development as weapon systems. Solid-state lasers are powered by electricity, making them highly mobile and supportable on the battlefield. The Boeing laser represents the most electrically efficient solid-state laser technology known. The system is designed to meet the rapid-fire, rapid-retargeting requirements of area-defense, anti-missile and anti-mortar tactical high-energy laser systems. It is also ideal for non-lethal, ultra-precision strike missions urgently needed by warfighters in war zones.

This is what you’re about to see – the laser in action from an actual C-130 Hercules:

This video shows the effect of the high-energy laser beam from the Boeing Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL), fired at a stationary truck from a US Air Force NC-130H flying over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on August 30, 2009. The ATL is a chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL), and is a scaled-down version of the megawatt-class high-energy laser in the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL). ABL and ATL are both technology demonstration programs.

This is an actual flyby.  This laser is mounted on an actual plane.  This car’s hood is actually getting a hole burned in it.

A couple of questions come to mind here:

  • Why is Boeing still trying to develop the COIL laser technology?  This is the same technology that requires lots of deadly chemicals, lasts for a few seconds, and then burns out?  It’s the equivalent of dropping a bomb – once the payload (the chemicals in this case) are used up, the plane must reload.  Aren’t there solid state alternatives that can me researched to make a multi-shot laser technology?  I would think that, since we’re not using this energy and time to develop something that could actually cure cancer or AIDS or something of the like, shouldn’t it at least be as efficient as possible?
  • Why aren’t we directing this research money into curing cancer or AIDS?

Well, I’ll never know.  I guess I am just that naive.  You could say I’m a dreamer.

Thanks, Geekologie!

Boeing’s Airborne Laser (ABL) Being Tested- Video

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I am fairly confused about how this thing is being touted among its specified community – first the ABL is on track, then it’s being scrapped.  Then it’s back in testing, then it’s scrapped.  I’m catching up on a few hundred websites now, but from about a week ago comes this video of the YAL-1 “laser on a plane” project being tested by Boeing.  In the video, the ABL (airborne laser) tracks an in-flight missile, lases it, and destroys it.

Just a note, this was neither the first test of this laser nor its huge chemical laser in play – it was a surrogate high-energy laser on the plane.  The missile was a 36 foot long Terrier Lynx/Black Brandt missile:

Here’s the press release from Boeing:

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Aug. 13, 2009 — The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA], industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Aug. 10 successfully completed the Airborne Laser’s (ABL) first in-flight test against an instrumented target missile, achieving a historic milestone.

During the test, the modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft took off from Edwards Air Force Base and used its infrared sensors to find a target missile launched from San Nicolas Island, Calif. The Boeing-developed battle management system aboard ABL then issued engagement and target location instructions to the beam control/fire control system, which acquired the target and fired its two solid-state illuminator lasers to track the target and measure atmospheric conditions. ABL then fired a surrogate high-energy laser at the target, simulating a missile intercept. Instrumentation on the target verified that the surrogate high-energy laser hit the target.

“This test demonstrates that the Airborne Laser can fully engage an in-flight missile with its battle management and beam control/fire control systems,” said Michael Rinn, Boeing vice president and ABL program director. “Pointing and focusing a laser beam on a target that is rocketing skyward at thousands of miles per hour is no easy task, but the Airborne Laser is uniquely able to do the job.”

The test follows ABL’s engagement of two un-instrumented missiles in early June, which allowed the team to fine-tune the engagement sequence.

ABL will now undergo flight tests in which the aircraft will fire its high-energy laser, first into an onboard calorimeter, then through its beam control/fire control system. The ABL team then will test the entire weapon system against in-flight missiles, culminating with ABL’s first high-energy laser intercept test against a ballistic missile later this year.

ABL would deter potential adversaries and provide speed-of-light capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. Eliminating missiles in their boost phase would reduce the number of shots required by other elements of the layered ballistic missile defense system.

“ABL’s revolutionary speed, mobility, precision and lethality would make it a great asset to America’s warfighters,” Rinn added.

Boeing is the prime contractor and overall systems integrator for ABL, and provides the modified aircraft and battle management system. Northrop Grumman supplies the high-energy laser, and Lockheed Martin provides the beam control/fire control system.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is one of the world’s largest space and defense businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $32 billion business with 70,000 employees worldwide.

Thanks, Danger Room!