When I was a kid, I was always so fascinated with my father’s work. My Dad was in the Navy, a Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate (MMCS), and he always has great stories about his days aboard a ship at sea bound for war. When you’re a kid, the strangest things fascinate you. I was always so very fascinated by Dad’s stories of the different systems at work on a Navy ship. My Dad was the guy who ran the Engine Rooms. I grew up reading about super-hot steam, hydraulic pressure that would squeeze an elephant into a thin film, and obviously Navy weapons. If you don’t think about what military weapons systems are really made for, they’re really unbelievably cool.
One of those technologies was a weapons system called the Phalanx CIWS, or Close-In Weapons System. The Phalanx was made by General Dynamics back in the late 1970’s, with contractor Raytheon taking a contract to improve the weapons system a few years ago. Apparently this system has come a long way — I asked my father to describe what his experience was with the weapon since he was on a few shops that had it in its infancy back in the 1970’s:
“The gun sounded like a large weed eater/lawn mower; extremely loud, running past its governor, with lotsa fire and smoke. Also, when locked on a target it was deadly.” I asked Dad to clarify what “running past its governor” meant, and he said that the gun would overspeed to the point where you thought it might come apart. Sounds like it’s come a long way!
What these are used for is generally for protecting the ship of anything that gets past the outer defensive systems on a ship — typically high speed flying missiles. So, just in case you need a little more explanation, the Phalanx is used to shoot missiles out of the sky that have been fired at the ship. What makes all of this relevant is what exactly this thing is made of, and a new upgrade that the Germans have developed. First and foremost, check this out — it’s a video of the Phalanx CIWS firing at a target. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a weapon that fires 4,500 rounds per minute at a target, tracking it with unbelievable speed and accuracy. It’s a Gatling Gun that fires 20mm depleted Uranium bullets. Watch this:
This particular Phalanx system is mounted on the ground:
This one, however, is mounted on a ship:
Now you know all of this hullaballoo that we’ve been hearing on Drones and Drone Strikes lately? I mean, it has been all over every freaking television and news channel from here to Al Jazeera. Imagine one of those Phalanx CIWS systems now with a 50kW laser attached to it instead of the 4,500 bullets per minute that it fires. How do you think that would be in the movies? Pretty cool?
No need to wait to see it in the movies. That sh*t is already here, and guess who invented it? Germany. Check this video out of a laser-mounted Phalanx-type system shooting down a drone from over 2km:
The German company who made this amazing thing, called Rheinmetall Defence, has created quite the science fiction scenario – a laser that can shoot drones out of the sky from over 3km away. If that isn’t impressive enough, the German-made system went for broke on their big impressive grand finale, shooting and destroying an 80mm steel ball traveling at 50 meters per second. That’s quite smaller than a drone and about 50 times as fast. But, no match for this German death ray machine!
You might notice two ports on the front of that mammoth thing — it’s a 50kW laser that is run into a combiner that takes a 20kW beam and a 30kW beam and combines them to a 50kW beam! It’s mounted on a platform similar to that of the Phalanx, and it’s got radar that rivals that of the Phalanx – in short, it is one bad mothertrucker. The Germans also have plans in the works to produce a 60kW and a 100kW model of the mega-laser that includes a 35mm Gatling cannon as well as the big drone-killing laser. Overkill? Who knows. When it comes to keeping our American sailors safe, I’m sure that most families will say that both is the best way to go. Even now on some ships the Phalanx is tied to a missile system called a RAM missile, or Rolling Airframe Missile. The RAM missile is a comglomeration between a Sidewinder and a Stinger missile — you’ve probably heard of these in the movies, right?
From a post at Singularity Hub:
The system isn’t actually a single laser but two laser modules mounted onto Revolver Gun air defense turrets made by Oerlikon and attached to additional power modules. The laser modules are 30 kW and 20 kW, but a Beam Superimposing Technology (BST) combines two lasers to focus in a “superimposed, cumulative manner” that wreaks havoc on its targets.
First, the system sliced through a 15mm- (~0.6 inches) thick steel girder from a kilometer away. Then, from a distance of two kilometers, it shot down a handful of drones as they nose-dived toward the surface at 50 meters per second. The laser’s radar, a widely used system called Skyguard, was capable of tracking the drones through their descent up to three kilometers away.
After successfully testing their 50kW laser system, Rheinmetall Defense has its sights on a truck-mounted mobile system with 100kW of metal-slicing power.
For its finale, the laser’s ability to track a very small ballistic target was demonstrated. It honed in on and destroyed a steel ball 82mm in diameter traveling at 50 meters per second. The small ball was meant to simulate an incoming mortar round. Rheinmetall says their laser will reduce the time required for C-RAM – Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar measures – to a matter of seconds, even in adverse weather conditions. In fact, weather at the Ochsenboden Proving Ground in Switzerland where the demonstration was carried out included ice, rain, snow, and extremely bright sunlight – far from ideal.