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In Germany, It’s the Drones that Get Struck – BY A LASER

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.

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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!

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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.

Wow.

Thanks to Singularity Hub, Motherboard, and DailyTech!

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!

Raytheon Set to Sell The First Pain Ray

A company called Raytheon (ever heard of a Phalanx gatling gun?) is about to start selling what they’re calling the Active Denial System, or ADS.  It is apparently a non-lethal energy ray that penetrates the skin about 1/64th of an inch causing excruciating temporary pain.  In case you’re wondering, yes – this is a functioning pain ray.  Raytheon has been marketing this system as a non lethal deterrent system, and it is a huge device that looks like it should be mounted on a truck or ship or something:

raytheon painray ADS

It’s being called the Silent Guardian.  There are two models of the ray system – a 30,000W version (effective up to 250 meters) and a 100,000W version (effective up to 750 meters).  Raytheon recently gave a presentation to NATO about anti-pirate measures and the Active-Denial System, and produced this PDF document – Raytheon has been studying this technology since before they unveiled a version of it in 2001.  Think about this for a moment:  a point focus microwave generator that produces an excruciating feeling when directed at someone from a minimum of 250 meters.  As far as protecting cargo and container ships, I think this is a pretty interesting non-lethal weapon.  Raytheon seems to be pointing this towards non-military applications too – like law enforcement and security.  No offense to either of these industries, but quite frankly I wonder what kinds of news stories I’ll be writing about when this thing hits the market.  I think it’s great that we might have a non-lethal weapon that could protect whatever needs protecting from actual threats, but why don’t you go search Google News for the words “police” and “taser.”

I hate to sound like a broken record, but if we can’t even trust people with taser guns, what makes this joystick-controlled hurt beam any different?  What about the possibility of this thing being used in “questioning” situations?

pain ray

I like hearing about things that deal with light and energy, and even though the realistic part of my brain tells me differently, I am going to hope for the best here.  Let’s hope that we don’t read about some overzealous agent using this on a detainee or some militant law enforcement group just unleashing this onto a group of demonstrators without need or license.

From the PDF presentation:

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painray ADS

Thanks, Danger Room!

The YAL-1 Might Get Scrapped

I have written and referred to the 747 with the big real genius laser strapped to the nose a bunch of times.  I just read an article over at Wired’s Danger Room about the YAL-1 project – some call it the “Flying Lightsaber” – and things ain’t going too well financially.  The project is $4 billion over budget, it’s dangerous as hell to the crew, and the project is about 8 years behind.  I guess that means things don’t look too good for this project.  Did I mention that in-flight operating costs are $92,000 an hour?

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The laser that flies onboard – the COIL laser mentioned in previous posts (chemical oxygen iodine laser) contains some nasty, nasty stuff to power the laser reaction.  Check this out:

One of the bigger problems is the chemicals needed to start the laser chain-reaction aren’t exactly the most stable and healthiest things to have around: 1,000 pounds of chlorine, 1,000 pounds of ammonia, 12,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, 220 gallons of sulphuric acid.

They’re so toxic, in fact, that the Air Force documents recommend that “all personnel must be [in the] forward [part of the plane] “during taxi, takeoff, and landing.” Going to the Airborne Laser’s aft “in flight is only allowed during a declared emergency, and then only for the absolute minimum duration, in Level A hazmat suit.”

Well, that’s gonna get a run for its money from solid state laser technology at some point.  We know that solid state weaponized lasing just hit 105.5kW, but the chemical laser technology is up around the megawatt class.  Let’s see how quickly the JHPSSL can multiply that laser power factor.

From what I have read, the technology is very powerful, but quite dangerous and becoming a pain in the rear of the people funding it.  It’s got a limited range and a handful of firings of the laser – not exactly a full-time protector, per se.

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Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee chair) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Obama pick for undersecretary of state arms control) aren’t real happy with the progress of this program, and they keep slamming it.  From an article at The Danger Room:

Count as unimpressed Rep. Ellen Tauscher, the influential Congresswoman and Obama administration pick for under secretary of state for arms control. She spoke yesterday at a conference co-sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency. “If you were there and you are a supporter of the Airborne Laser program, you didn’t have a good morning,” InsideDefense.com quips.

Noting that the program is eight years behind schedule and $4 billion over cost, Tauscher said ABL [Airborne Laser] is the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over despite failing each time.

“We can no longer continue to do everything and explore every potential technology,” Tauscher added. “Missile defense cannot be like some second marriages — the triumph of hope over experience.”

Levin and Tauscher were also quoted in DoDBuzz while talking to a group of missile defense advocates:

The two politicians are Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. They told roughly 1,000 missile defense advocates in separate speeches that more and better testing must be done and hard choices are coming that will probably mean substantial cuts to the MDA budget. But there were also distinct signs of a hopeful nature, from the new head of MDA, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, and from one of its most persistent and respected critics, Philip Coyle, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation.

Tauscher’s line was simpler and less compromising than Levin’s. “We need to make some tough defense budget decisions,” she said, pointing to the Airborne Laser program, which is four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. “Let me be clear. Those days are over.”

Well, goodbye big chemical laser flying machine of death.  Maybe solid state lasers will advance quickly.  I wonder how that cure for cancer’s going?

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Thanks, DangerRoom, DoDBuzz, and CNet!


Northrop Grumman Makes A 100kW Laser

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Defense contractor Northrop Grumman just recently released information that they’ve created a solid state laser that fired over 100kW in a beam – 105.5kW, to be relatively exact.  This mile marker is apparently a big deal, because now Northrop Grumman has entered the weaponized laser market.  This is also significant, as they’ve now created the most powerful ray from an electric laser, ever.  Northrop is part of something called the JHPSSL – The Joint High Power Solid State Laser program, which is dedicated to creating a weaponized laser system, obviously solid state.

Remember the big flying plane laser and the truck laser that shoots down planes?  Those are chemical lasers – the COIL variety (Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser), at least in the case of the jumbo jet laser.  Chemical lasers are apparently noxious, and freaking huge.  Solid-state lasers are much more compact – but still a little too big to send into battle quite yet.

The method for reaching over 100kW of power from their laser is pretty interesting – a series of laser amplifiers were added together in such a way to increase power with each block.  From Northrop Grumman:

For building blocks, the company utilizes “laser amplifier chains,” each producing approximately 15kW of power in a high-quality beam. Seven laser chains were combined to produce a single beam of 105.5 kW. The seven-chain JHPSSL laser demonstrator ran for more than five minutes, achieved electro-optical efficiency of 19.3 percent, reaching full power in less than 0.6 seconds, all with beam quality of better than 3.0.

100kW is apparently the “proof of principle” used in creating weapons like this – but experts say that 25kW-50kW can also make an effective weapon.  Solid State lasers are preferred in some of these packages because of the compact nature of solid-state.  Chemical lasers depend on the chemical being lased in the chemical devices, and are much more space-consuming.  Even though solid state technology is more compact, it’s still not quite small enough yet.  I bet it won’t take much longer.

I did find a video on this subject, from the LA Times:

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Thanks, LA Times and CNET!

Truck Mounted Spy Drone Killing Laser

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More military uses of light, again in the form of laser light.  First I heard about the big jumbo jet that could kill missiles in flight – and now exists a humvee-mounted laser cannon that actually shot a spy drone out of the sky.  From the article at New Scientist:

The Laser Avenger is an infrared laser with power levels somewhere in the tens of kilowatts range mounted on a Humvee off-road vehicle. It is designed to take down the smaller variety of UAV, which are hardest for conventional air-defence weapons to target.

The power of its laser has been doubled since 2007, when it was shown off destroying a stationary improvised bomb. Now it has tracked three small UAVs – the exact model has not been given – and shot one of them down. The laser tracks an object and holds fire until the target is close enough for it to cause burning with a single blast.

So now we have another use of laser light for defense.  I wonder how we’re doing with lasers in the “let’s cure cancer” industry?

Again, from the article:

Surface to air missiles designed to target normal-sized aircraft struggle to lock onto small, light, UAVs sometimes made from plastics rather than metal, Nick Brown, editor-in-chief of the journal International Defence Review told New Scientist. “Lasers are a natural extension of their capability.”

Firing a laser multiple times would also be cheaper than firing many missiles, and could continue as long as power can be supplied.

However, Brown’s colleague Peter Felstead, editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, says the first battlefield lasers will not have UAVs in their sights. “Laser weapons are more likely to be fielded first to counter rockets and mortars, and that capability is not that far away,” he says.