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US Navy Close To On-Ship Laser Cannons 309

Posted by samzenpus
from the warm-up-the-wave-motion-gun dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Office of Naval Research and industry partner Northrop Grumman said they successfully tested for the first time an on-board laser defense system known as the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), using it to destroy a small target vessel. The test actually accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating MLD with a ship's radar and navigation system, and firing an electric laser weapon from a moving platform at-sea in a humid environment."
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US Navy Close To On-Ship Laser Cannons

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  • Killing people is OK as long as you use cool technology to do it.

    • by poity (465672)

      Well if you actually RTFA, it's for ship defense against small boats, i.e. suicide speedboat swarms that countries like Iran have shown to be willing to deploy. My guess is that the typical 20mm cannons are too slow or too short ranged to react to more than a handful of these agile targets before they close in and the laser system is developed to address this weakness.

      • by Luckyo (1726890) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @09:41AM (#35773750)

        Pointless. A simple 40mm bofors (cheap as hell) or a properly set up AA Gatling will do the job far, FAR better against boat swarms. At the same time they are far cheaper, integrate into system with self-auto corrective targeting based on radar signature of gun's own shells, do not require a heavy supply of energy and have significantly fewer points of failure.

        This is essentially a theoretical "possible future weapon" exercise - it has nothing to do with actual, realistic modern combat. AT ALL. In the current material technology levels, a laser that would be at least on par with a modern (actually never mind, let's talk on par with a WW2-aged so we don't get too depressed) kinetic gun is at least as far away as commercial fusion.

        In other words, it's a huge waste of taxpayers money, that is validated because people that know nothing of actual weapon technology and how it needs to work go "woo, laser cannons, I saw that in the movies!".
        Sad really.

        • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:00AM (#35773846) Homepage

          This is essentially a theoretical "possible future weapon" exercise - it has nothing to do with actual, realistic modern combat.

          To be fair, there was a time that the machine gun, submarine and airplane fell into this category too.

          Though I do have to admit ... the current guns and firearms and such do seem hard to beat.

          • by mjwx (966435)

            This is essentially a theoretical "possible future weapon" exercise - it has nothing to do with actual, realistic modern combat.

            To be fair, there was a time that the machine gun, submarine and airplane fell into this category too.

            Though I do have to admit ... the current guns and firearms and such do seem hard to beat.

            During the Napoleonic war, the British army actively fought against the introduction of rifles. Favouring the proper and well tested Musket, despite the greater range and firepower of rifled guns. Rifle units were set apart and even dressed differently to regular troops (green coats rather then red coats).

            Conservatism is nothing new to armed forces, resistance to new ideas has always been great. The old saying "generals are equipped to fight the last war" exists for a reason.

            • by DarenN (411219) on Monday April 11, 2011 @04:39AM (#35779390) Homepage

              You're not entirely correct - there was resistance, but it was because of firing rates - the rifles traded speed for accuracy and the (very successful) British tactical doctrine at the time emphasized speed of firing. So they used the rifles for their skirmishers, and dressed them green because they were mostly in front of the redcoats and needed to be less conspicuous.

              It was Napoleon who regarded the rifle as a toy and refused, point blank, to allow them to be used.

              You're correct about conservatism in the armed forces, but I was wearing my nerd hat and had to respond :)

        • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @07:47PM (#35777012)

          Pointless. A simple 40mm bofors (cheap as hell) or a properly set up AA Gatling will do the job far, FAR better against boat swarms. At the same time they are far cheaper, integrate into system with self-auto corrective targeting based on radar signature of gun's own shells, do not require a heavy supply of energy and have significantly fewer points of failure.

          You really have no idea what you are talking about. Every single branch of the U.S. military dearly wants guided lasers to be able to disable incoming mortar rounds, missiles, aircraft, boats and enemy personnel. They have been actively testing these devices for the past several years by removing the guns off of their radar-guided mounts and replacing them with these high-energy lasers.

          The lasers are appealing because they make it easier to hit the target. With conventional ballistics, you have to consider both the target's trajectory and that of your interceptor. Additionally, your interceptor has a finite size, so you not only need to line up its path with that of the target, but you also need to coordinate the arrival times of both objects at that point in space. With a light-speed weapon, you just point at where the target is currently. Additionally, if you miss in a populated area, you do not have to worry about your interceptor causing collateral damage. The military currently uses self-deflagrating rounds to address this issue, so that they will burn up before they hit the ground. If you have ever watched a mortar defense system in action, you'll notice it takes A LOT of rounds to hit the mortar.

          Finally, your concerns about tracking and auto-correcting are unfounded. These systems use an IR laser and an IR camera to guide it. The system can see the target, the laser beam (due to scattered light), and the hit-region illuminated by the laser. There is no longer any radar needed.

          You may not be excited about this system, but the US soldiers deployed overseas are.

    • by RsG (809189) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @08:51AM (#35773502)

      Eh, it's the bloody navy. Who exactly are they going to vaporize?

      You can complain about cool technology "killing people" in the context of, say, dropping bombs on cities. In that case you've got a clear argument that the weapon in question can and will be used in a way that will leave innocent civilians dead, since it's not like shrapnel knows the difference between the barracks and the orphanage. However, a weapon useful only against military targets, for instance a laser to slag warships, missiles and aircraft, isn't very useful for carrying out war crimes, and isn't likely to mistake a bus-full of nuns for an enemy aircraft carrier.

      Bottom line, if the people being killed are hostile armed forces in a time of war, not killing them gives them the opportunity to kill you instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by alostpacket (1972110)
        Clearly you've never actually encountered a bus full of nuns. They can be quite dangerous. Or sexy, depending on where you download the video from.
      • and isn't likely to mistake a bus-full of nuns for an enemy aircraft carrier..

        You mean that actual nun incident [bbc.co.uk] you reference was just an identification error? The one that caused protesters to chant "Washington Guns Killed American Nuns" during Alexander Haig's commencement speech at Syracuse? [google.com]

        Those nuns were targeted, and should it suit someone in the right position to send a laser blast into a bus full of nuns, you can bet they will do it with no qualms at all.

        The clear argument that weapons will be u

        • by RsG (809189)

          People have been using "bus load of nuns" as a shorthand for "group of innocent people" since long before 1980. Nuns rank right alongside orphans as obvious innocents.

          So no, I was not referencing "that actual nun incident". This is the first I've run into that particular case, though I might well have seen it before and simply forgotten it.

          I'm not even going to try and untangle the run on sentence at the end of your post. Other than to remark that you clearly need to check the soles of your shoes for soa

  • Uninformative (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Timmmm (636430) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @08:53AM (#35773512)

    Well that was an uninformative article.

    How does the laser work? What is its power? Efficiency? Frequency? Hell it doesn't even say what happened when they tested it.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @08:53AM (#35773514)
    A line of sight weapon is only useful if you can see the enema. If they happen to be distant enough that the earth gets in the way, you've got nothing. Meanwhile, they can still fire shells at you which follow a nice, ballistic trajectory. Whether of not the laser weapon is accurate enough, powerful enough or lucky enough to hit a small, supersonic target will be an interesting experiment. I await the results with a non-zero (barely), positive interest.

    Afterthought: presumably the torpedo manufacturers aren't too worried, either.

    • by imsabbel (611519)

      Yawn.

      First, if you see your enema, better go to a better doctor.

      Second, its not a replacement for artillery (thats going to be the job of railguns), but of phalanx systems. Operational range would only be a few km, so plenty in line of sight.

      • And what if a potential attack consists of a missile that will seperate itself into multiple warheads before attacking the target? The overloading tactic would presumably also work against RAMs (Rolling Airframe Missiles) and conventional Phalanx guns.

    • i'm looking at 'A' and 'Y' on my keyboard. nope. maybe a mistake like enemu or enemt. but you had to write enema on purpose. which is odd, as your post seems serious

    • by mijelh (1111411)
      The article says the laser is a defensive weapon to be used against small boats, and they actually say that its going to work together with, and not as a substitution to "kinetic energy weapon systems". I don't think you need to defend yourself against a small boat which is too far to be seen, if nothing else because there is probably no way to know if they are hostile or not.
    • A line of sight weapon is only useful if you can see the enema.

      A fecal impaction is a large mass of dry, hard shit that can develop in the rectum due to chronic constipation. A laser treatment might very well be a productive treatment to get the stools flowing...

    • QUICK, someone call the navy! They MUST know this! A random dweed on slashdot has pointed out a fatal flaw in their decade long research! Save the nation, we can prevent a second Pearl Harbor if only we can this information to the right people!

      Either this or, thank you for point out the bloody obvious and that a close range defensive weapon designed to take out small attacking ships does not need over the horizon capabilities. Layers of defence, read up on it.

    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @11:21AM (#35774358)

      Modern warships are basically floating generators powering the communications equipment.

      They also have missiles, helicopters, and torpedoes. Usually for target engagement, you fire a missile off in the wrong direction, have it fly away for a bit, turn, and then correct course towards the target. The target is not aware of your correct location.

      Now if you can see your target that's usually an intelligence failure or you're investigating without engaging. For example, if a Spanish fishing trawler is illegally catching fish off the Grand Banks and you decide to fire a warning shot when they don't pull over.

      So where do lasers come in?

      1. For defence, or incoming ballistics neutralization. The Phalanx (R2D2 / Dalek) can destroy most incoming ballistics BUT it goes through ammo like Charlie Sheen goes through hookers and Coke! (It fires 50 cal at 3000 RPM) so it's expensive to fire. Replace that with a laser and suddenly it's costing a gallon of fuel instead of $40k with of bullets. The target acquisition time with modern equipment is enough to destroy almost anything, and even better you can now destroy incoming shells with the lasers. You normally wouldn't be able to acquire / waste ammo on the smaller shells. Now you can.

      2. For close-in target neutralization. If you can see the target, you can CUT OFF HER MASTS and then the ship is dark. There's no radar, no radio, and no way of acquiring targets without going outside and opening up a sextant and graph paper. And that's a warship. A civilian ship would be dead in the water.

      3. Interdiction of small vessels. When the Cole was hit, even if they'd known that there was a threat there was a good chance they couldn't have repelled it. Warships are designed to hit warships, not two guys in a rowboat. They best they could have done was go down to the small arms locker and try to pick them off with machine gun fire. It wasn't until a few years later that they tried, and with remarkable success, using the Phalanx to hit small incoming craft. Again, that's a waste of money and ammo. With a laser, you can just cut them in half and throw the survivors a Kisby ring, OR switch carrier to a MASER and knock them out with the pain.

  • I alway think defending against such lasers is quite easy and low-cost: Just put up a good-quality mirror and the beam gets reflected. If you aim well, you could even attack the ship with its own laser-beam.

    Markus

    • This has discussed before in other articles about lasers. The problem with mirrors is that they old reflect a % of the energy of the laser and are soon damaged to the point where they no longer reflect at all.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Reflective chaff is cheap and plentiful. Just use more chaff and the target is safe. The cost of chaff per laser power is an asymmetric defense that renders these lasers just another way to bankrupt the US. Which has been the defensive strategy of our enemies in the field for at least a decade now. And it's totally worked, while they remain in the same condition they started in, or better.

        • You would have to have enough chaff to keep ejecting the entire time you are in motion, which would quickly mean you have no room for weapons. If you don't move, you get pegged easily with a rocket, and if you do move you just leave your protective bubble. It wouldn't work.
        • by peragrin (659227)

          Chaff only makes sense when your not moving or when your moving AWAY from the weapon.

          Chaff is defense against rear attacks. if your on a speed boat heading toward a ship that is shooting at you chaff is worthless.

          think before you speak.

        • And it would be very difficult to store enough chaff rounds onboard to do a continuous barrage, especially if you were a small vessel. And current chaff launchers would melt down if you tried to fire them this regularly. And small boats (the intended targets for this thing) mostly don't have room for even the chaff launcher, much less the ammo.

          Chaff is not a practical countermeasure to this.

    • by moogied (1175879)
      It doesn't work like that.... what are you going to do? Cover your entire boat in mirrors? No? Then I guess they'll just melt a hole through whatever the hell isn't covered in mirrors. Even if you do cover the ship in mirrors and they magically are strong enough to not break your boat the laser will still melt through it, albeit slightly slower.
  • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @08:56AM (#35773524)

    In the navy,
    Yes, you can sail the seven seas!
    In the navy,
    Yes, you can fire MLDs!
    • Of course, now, it is only a matter of time before our enemies have ship-mounted lasers. Which means soon we'll get roped into paying for deflector shields.

      Shit! They always get you with the add-ons...

    • Does hitting five targets in a row entitle me to growl "IMPRESSIVE!" over the P.A.?

  • The laser was mounted onto the deck of the Navy’s self-defense test ship, former USS Paul Foster (DD 964).

    Too bad the ship wasn't called Sea Bass

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @09:02AM (#35773548)

    now where are the Sharks?

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      "now where are the Sharks?"

      In the water.

    • by xs650 (741277)
      The frikin' laser needs to be frikin' miniaturized before it can be out on the frikin' sharks frikin' heads.
      • "The frikin' laser needs to be frikin' miniaturized before it can be out on the frikin' sharks frikin' heads."

        C'mon! you can't be a real terror demigod aiming at world domination if you can't think big.

        You feed your shark army in the radiactive seaside near Fukushima so they grow Godzilla-like ("frikin' Sharkzillas"?) then you won't have any problem to mount navy-size lasers on their frikin' heads.

        • Sir, we got a volunteer. Private Turbidostato has volunteered to not just take a large high power electric device into salt water but to strap it, unarmed and naked (we are the navy after all) to our specially grown giant sized sharks whose increase in size thanks to their constant submergance in radiated water is only outmatched by their increase in ferocity.

          Might I suggest sir, that you put in the request for his medal (posthumous), now? It would save time.

    • by PPH (736903) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:44AM (#35774120)

      Rumbling with the Jets. Where else?

  • So Expensive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @09:21AM (#35773654) Homepage Journal

    I'm glad we didn't cut a penny from the 2011 military budget. Then we wouldn't have these extra boat lasers around that we don't need, along with all the thousands of other defense contractor welfare projects we've run up $TRILLIONS in debt to pay for.

    Instead we cut 1% of the Federal budget, from women, children and the poor. Why protect them with social programmes when we can defend them with extra weapons that kill other people, or sit unused, instead?

    • by yodleboy (982200)
      so why is this a troll? seriously, cry baby politicians in DC are looking for pennies under the couch and arguing ideology when there are piles of wasted money in pet projects.

      On another note, is the navy seriously suggesting that current close-in weapons systems are so useless that we need lasers? I mean the idea is cool, but come on. Small vessels getting close enough to do serious damage seems more of a failure of procedure than a failure of weapons. Unless you're willing to shoot any old fishing boa
      • by Dails (1798748)

        Dealing with hostile small boats is a nightmare. In order to shoot one while not in a hot war, you have to establish hostile intent, which is pretty hard to do. Compounding this further is that our enemies know what our rules of engagement are, and constantly ride the line of them. When you transit the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian small boats constantly charge your ship and turn away at the last minute. If you ask them to stop, they say they're "conducting training in international waters," which is true p

        • by yodleboy (982200)
          No contradiction, the RoE is a procedure that must be followed. My main point was that lasers are neat, but the neatest weapons system in the world makes no difference if you can't or won't use it. Current close-in systems are just as effective as lasers if you use them.
    • by mrmeval (662166)

      So get rid of both Then you won't breed cretinous weapons or people.

  • Like salmon, cannon is its own plural. Oh, and in electrical terms, it's antennas, not "antennae", in case you were wondering.
  • From the summary:

    using it to destroy a small target vessel

    From the article:

    disabled a small target vessel

    Big difference between "disable" and "destroy."

    • by rossdee (243626)

      If the target vessel is a speedboat packed with explosives, or an incoming anti-ship missile (which are probably the types of threats the laser would be designed to stop) then maybe the disabling would lead to the destruction of the target, and prevent the destruction of the navy ship it was defending.

      Remember the USS Cole, and the HMS Sheffield, these days the biggest threat to a ship is a small suicide boat or a missile.

  • Ha! We win! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @10:27AM (#35774002)

    The enemy just said that their defense system is mostly smoke and mirrors!

    No... wait...

  • Give me a call when they perfect the wave motion gun.

    cookies if you get the reference

  • by bmo (77928) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @12:22PM (#35774738)

    Ok, so this is for at range and close-in defense?

    Fine.

    Just attack the ship in a fog. Laser efficiency and focus goes out the window. Ask any land surveyor who's tried to work in a fog and can't get a beam to make a 10 meter round-trip. Not happening.

    Yes it's more powerful than the laser in a total-station but condensed water vapor (fog, driving rain) is going to make your beam useless. Please note they tested this in a "high humidity environment" and not fog. There's a difference, and the difference is utter failure in fog. You can't defeat physics.

    This is pants-on-head retarded.

    --
    BMO

  • by Dan667 (564390) on Sunday April 10, 2011 @04:50PM (#35776270)
    this unneeded laser program should have been one of the first things cut.

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