01 February 2006

More Laser Guns

Don't take this idea to the bank.

The military plans to test the Advanced Tactical Laser, a laser weapon mounted on a C-130H air transport that could destroy any weapon system without collateral damage. . . . Under the program, Boeing would test the aircraft in July 2006. The aircraft would have all subsystems on board except the high-energy laser. Officials said a low-power surrogate laser would be used instead of the kilowatt-class, high-energy laser. . . . The ATL was deemed as complementary to the Airborne Laser program for the Missile Defense Agency. ABL was meant to mount a megawatt class chemical laser on a Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft.

A C-130 is a 1950s technology, and both low powered lasers and C-130s with weapons on them are 1970s technologies. But, efforts to built high energy lasers have not been very successful. The existing efforts have been over budget and produce massive amounts of toxic waste and are hard to get small enough.

Also, for clarification purposes, the idea, apparently, is to heat enemy ammunition, causing it to explode on its own, rather than to have a science fiction style laser gun. The obvious countermeasures would be to start using railguns, which can have inert ammunition, or to create some form of artificial fog which would diffuse laser light.

1 comment:

Big D said...

Err, just one problem.

Who has, or is likely to in the next 20 years, fielded railguns?

Heck, *we* haven't figured out how to make them militarily useful yet. Combat lasers are closer.

The current model they're talking about is indeed a chemical laser that produces nasties--part of what they're selling in this design is an integrated waste container to keep the waste sealed away for later disposal elsewhere. I'm not too crazy about them, except that they offer good pinpoint aiming for certain situations and start getting us up the learning curve on how to use laser cannons.

However, work is proceeding on lasers that require only electricity. So far, their power levels are lower (~25KW), but they're increasing fairly fast. That's the kind (solid state) of laser that will eventually see general service; I've seen 100KW as a goal for an effective weapon.

Please note that the "heat enemy ammunition" bit is for inbound ordnance. Putting a laser beam through a truck or even the top deck of a tank from altitude is quite doable.