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Shark The Military Technology

The US Navy Wants More Railguns and Lasers, Less Gunpowder 517

coondoggie writes Speaking before nearly 3,000 attendees at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology EXPO in Washington, D.C., Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert charged his audience to reduce reliance on gunpowder in a wide-ranging speech on the future technological needs of the Navy. "Number one, you've got to get us off gunpowder," said Greenert, noting that Office of Naval Research-supported weapon programs like Laser Weapon System (LaWS) and the electromagnetic railgun are vital to the future force. “Probably the biggest vulnerability of a ship is its magazine—because that’s where all the explosives are." Weapons like LaWS have a virtually unlimited magazine, only constrained by power and cooling capabilities aboard the vessel carrying them. In addition, Greenert noted the added safety for Sailors and Marines that will come from reducing dependency on gunpowder-based munitions.
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The US Navy Wants More Railguns and Lasers, Less Gunpowder

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  • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @05:34AM (#48996545)

    How is that fancy laser going to work when the enemy uses a smoke screen? Or a mirror?

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @05:40AM (#48996563)

      I am figuring your comment is in jest.
      A laser powerful enough to bring down an airplane would burn thru a mist and probably melt a mirror instantly before the can use a reflection to aim it back.

      • Except if a laser is so powerful... how exactly do you aim it without it burning out the prisms/mirrors that are utilised to aim it?
        • Except if a laser is so powerful... how exactly do you aim it without it burning out the prisms/mirrors that are utilised to aim it?

          They don't use curved barrels on the main guns. Work it out yourself. Wait, you can't. So: The lasers will go in the turrets, just like the guns do now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 )

        What do you mean by "burn through"? When you heat up a gas hot enough to change its state, the next state up is plasma. Plasma is opaque.

        Really, lasers seem much easier to defend against than to get to work right... there's so many varied potential defenses for them (ablatives, smoke, chaff, higher thermal conductivity materials, heat sinks, polished surfaces, etc, plus presenting a precisely pinpointable beacon for return fire). And any ambient scatter (and there will be a lot) will be enough to cause perm

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Plasma is opaque.

          What do you mean plasma is opaque? As long as the electromagnetic wave is above the cut-off, higher than the plasma frequency which depends on density for colder plasmas, then electromagnetic wave will propagate through plasma. Plasma at the same density as air is still has a cutoff in IR above the wavelength of something like a Nd:YAG laser.

          But regardless, still depends on the situation, because for pulsed lasers, the time scale of energy absorption is way faster than the timescale that ablated material

    • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @06:03AM (#48996663)

      Lasers are used against aircraft or missiles. The railguns are for naval targets. Smoke is hilariously ineffective against a railgun strike. And it is hard to maintain a smoke screen around a missile or an aircraft.

      Keep in mind, anything you could hit with a navel gun is even easier to hit with a rail gun. Currently the velocity of railguns is roughly equivalent to navel guns. However, that speed will climb.

      Eventually this speed should surpass escape velocity which means railguns will eventually be able to tag satellites or even launch small hunter-killer kill vehicles to destroy/disable/subvert enemy orbital infrastructure.

      The weapons are quite effective. The question in the new era is how to defend against such things so that a battle group is survivable. Between all this and hypersonic missiles carrier groups might be a thing of the past. Large surface fleets might also just be too vulnerable to be useful.

      High endurance aircraft that can strike from extreme range and attack submarines with surface strike capability might be the order of the day. A submersible destroyer for example could get in close with heavy weaponry, fire a salvo, and then dive before enemy systems could target and strike it. Such a thing would be vulnerable to enemy attack submarines but then you could just escort it with a flotilla of attack submarines to act as defense. You could even add some drone carriers. Submersible aircraft carriers were built by the Japanese in WW2. Consider what you could do if you gave such a design a nuclear power plant, expanded the size to Nimitz proportions, and replaced the planes entirely with more compact drones.

      That is a possible vision of the future.

      • Currently the velocity of railguns is roughly equivalent to navel guns.

        They will leave your hands free too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Qzukk ( 229616 )

        Currently the velocity of railguns is roughly equivalent to navel guns.

        I dunno, some navel [youtube.com] guns are pretty powerful.

    • How is that fancy laser going to work when the enemy uses a smoke screen? Or a mirror?

      You're making it too complicated.

      One EMP burst, and all that fancy hardware will be burned-out scrap.

      Strat

      • How is that fancy laser going to work when the enemy uses a smoke screen? Or a mirror?

        You're making it too complicated.

        One EMP burst, and all that fancy hardware will be burned-out scrap.

        Strat

        Because there's absolutely no defence against EMP :| If it was that simple forces would just EMP each others tech then go back to fighting with mechanical means.

      • A railgun creates an EMP every time it is fired. Everything on that ship is EMP hardened anyway.

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        And how do you propose to launch this EMP attack? EMP isn't a magical thing you can just conjure up and cast at someone like a wizard. Pretty much anything you could do to a hit a ship with an EMP would be no less difficult than just blowing up the ship with something explosive. EMP is only preferable if you then intend to send soldiers on bored the ship to seize it and retrieve if for yourself, but good fucking luck with that. I imagine the crew would scuttle it before you had chance.

        • by f3rret ( 1776822 )

          And how do you propose to launch this EMP attack? EMP isn't a magical thing you can just conjure up and cast at someone like a wizard. Pretty much anything you could do to a hit a ship with an EMP would be no less difficult than just blowing up the ship with something explosive. EMP is only preferable if you then intend to send soldiers on bored the ship to seize it and retrieve if for yourself, but good fucking luck with that. I imagine the crew would scuttle it before you had chance.

          I suppose you could hit them with a nuclear bomb. Those things produce pretty powerful EMP.

      • The fancy hardware is on a ship. A navy ship. I guess they make them from metal since a few years. Which means Faraday cage, a simple physical principle/idea.
        Then we have the problem of generating an EMP.
        Only works with nukes ignited in very high atmosphere, you know. Or you could invent a fancy EMP cannon wich unfortunately would only work in direct line of sight. Good look in bringing an EMP canon on a boat in range of a railgun or laser armed *war ship*

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @07:32AM (#48996965) Journal

      How is that fancy laser going to work when the enemy uses a smoke screen? Or a mirror?

      Plus every cat on the battlefield is going to be chasing it.

  • They are not eliminating all "gunpowder". They may be able to eliminate the propellant used to launch projectiles but many of those projectiles will still have explosive warheads. Its an improvement, but there will still be armored magazines for such projectiles.
    • by jabuzz ( 182671 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @05:59AM (#48996651) Homepage

      Yes they are, an aluminium slug impacting the ground at say Mach 15 does not need any gunpowder to create a large hole in the ground or destroy a building, the kinetic energy of the projectile will do that all by itself.

      • Yes they are, an aluminium slug impacting the ground at say Mach 15 does not need any gunpowder to create a large hole in the ground or destroy a building, the kinetic energy of the projectile will do that all by itself.

        Only for line of sight type shots and shots with a relatively low ballistic trajectory. For shorter ranged shots with a more ballistic trajectory the launch speed would need to be greatly reduced. Note that if the shot is sufficiently high (perhaps a target on a reverse slope) the projectile is coming down at a gravity induced speed, not at a launch induced speed.

        Kinetic energy projectiles do not completely replace explosive warheads.

    • Unless the projectile store all its energy in form of momentum instead of explosive.

      To do that, you just need to shoot your projectile at ridiculous speeds. [wikipedia.org]

  • In that sure you remove gun powder... but you still need to get the energy from somewhere to power those lasers/railguns. Unless your ship has a nuclear reactor on board won't this generally mean having to carry a whole load of additional fuel? Granted some fuels have higher energy densities. But doesn't this just transfer risk away from ship magazines to the fuel tanks instead?
    • This reminds me of the M1 Abrams tank, it is exceptional combat vehicle and it is almost indestructible (almost) the problem is it drinks fuel like crazy and as a result requires massive logistical tankers to keep it running.
    • Unless your ship has a nuclear reactor on board

      Fun fact: The US Navy operates 86 nuclear powered ships (mostly submarines). They seem pretty comfortable with it.
      =Smidge=

  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @05:50AM (#48996615)
    Laser are line of sight only, they can't do indirect fire. A ship would also need rail guns to launch projectiles. Its an improvement, but there will still be ammunition limits.
    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      I guess it depends on the role, if it's a ship whose job is wholly to protect say an aircraft carrier, then it has all it needs to just keep on doing that.

      But yes, it doesn't mean ships whose job is to shell the living shit out of places from off the coast will have unlimited ammunition, it's true in a defensive capacity though.

    • by f3rret ( 1776822 )

      Laser are line of sight only, they can't do indirect fire. A ship would also need rail guns to launch projectiles. Its an improvement, but there will still be ammunition limits.

      Lasers probably wont be used for Ship-to-ship or even ship-to-shore engagements, they're much more suited as CIWS or Anti-air roles.

  • Why not work on the diplomacy? No country in the world has so much trouble talking to others like the US. Always resorting to violence when someone do not follow their orders. Wars going on directly or by proxy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Africa and South America and it is just a matter of time until wars are instigated in Asia. Lighting the world on fire sure are a good way of seeing to it that you have to burn gunpowder like there is no tomorrow.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Black Parrot ( 19622 )

      They need to update gunboat diplomacy to railgunboat diplomacy.

    • LOL indeed the U.S. is awful at diplomacy absolutely horrible. Just look at how it gets rooked over on trade treaties. Totally ineffective at negotiations.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2015 @06:39AM (#48996795)

        You do not understand diplomacy. It is not about winning it is about balance of power. A trade agreement which is favor of, lets say, the US and the other side must pay, then this will result sooner or later in less respect for the US. In the end they hate the US for being rude and brutal even without weapons. However, this is the diplomacy the US normally does. And often it is not only not in the interest of the other nation, it is also not in the interest of the general population in the US.

        All would be much better when the US would be able to learn to be less imperial. And yes, the Chinese try to be the same. That will also not help to have stable world politics.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not all humans are created alike

      Not all humans are reasonable

      Not all humans are sane

      Diplomacy works on humans who are (at least) sane. On the other hand, savages such as the Jihadists who recently burnt a Jordanian pilot to death are not interested in diplomacy

      I understand that passifists / peace loving / tree hugging / hippie wannabe like you want peace, but let me tell you this one thing - you will only get your peace if others are afraid to mess with you

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Wrong. If others are afraid of you and feel helpless, they will radicalize themselves and start to terrorize you. This result in so called asymmetric war fare. Societies are normal reasonable and should not be confused with single individuals. However, if a group of people becomes desperate they might use extreme measures. Some of them become normal criminals which obviously do not follow common rules, as they position themselves outside of these rules. With terrorists it is very similar. We have had our sh

        • Force will not help you to solve conflicts in the long run.

          Ask the Native Americans how well that worked out for them?

          Force solves all kinds of problems. It doesn't solve ALL problems, but it does solve SOME problems.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Okay, how about we send you to talk some sense into Daesh, I'm sure they'd listen to you. Putin has also been calling for your input a lot, explain to him why he shouldn't have half of Ukraine. Lil' Kimmy's a nice guy, could you please go over there and talk him out of his nukes. While you are on your world tour, please explain to the Iranians that achieving hegemony over its neighbors is a losing strategy and nukes won't help them.

      Maybe in your bunny world, the U.S. caused all these problems. Hey, are you

    • by Neil Boekend ( 1854906 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @06:44AM (#48996801)

      War is diplomacy by crude means.

    • I don't think you understand, they want to stop storing explosives on ships. The ships will be carrying the explosives whether they are to be used or not. Will better diplomacy change how chemistry works? Unless you think a few stunning diplomats could render maintaining a defensive force unnecessary. In which case, you may want to check up on whether there are any other big military and/or economic powers with extra-territorial ambitions right now.

  • I though they abandoned gunpowder for their main armament before the first world war. gun powder is for small arms ammunition where anything else is too expensive.

    This is the kind of stuff the Military industrial complex comes up with when they need to give congress a set of cheap buzzword to defend wasting more money on equipment that will never be used to make a real difference anyway,

    The US stategic doctrine is flawed and have been since the Vietnam but just like the cavalry survived almost a centu
  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @05:56AM (#48996637) Homepage

    However successive UK governments have seen "improving" the navy as meaning strip it of as many ships as it can. Soon it'll consist of 2 men and a rowing boat. Oh, and one overpriced aircraft carrier with no planes that can fly from it.

    • Oh, and one overpriced aircraft carrier with no planes that can fly from it.

      It's increasingly unclear that having planes launched from an aircraft carrier is a feature. Drones and missiles are a lot cheaper than manned planes (and require less logistical support).

      Britain built a strong navy to protect from the threat of invasion from Spain and France. It kept a strong navy to guard the colonies and, during the cold war, to provide a second-strike capability if the USSR decided to launch nuclear weapons at London. We primarily have one now to provide artillery and logistical s

      • by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @07:02AM (#48996863)

        What do we need a large navy for now?

        That is what they were saying after WW1 then look what happened. I'm not saying there's a big war round the corner or anything but we need a large decent navy for when we need a large decent navy.

        • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @07:34AM (#48996969)

          Yep, the exact same arguments were being made about the F-22 and Eurofighter. "Why do we need these high tech planes when all we're doing is bombing mud huts in Afghanistan?".

          Those planes look like kind of a good idea now we have Russia flying within miles and sometimes literally outright breaching sovereign NATO airspace again with it's probing patrols in the Baltic, the North Sea, and English channel and with transponders off and no response to communications. We're also finding those mud huts are right in the middle of a high tech Syrian air defence network too.

          So it's kind of a good thing we didn't listen to the naysayers and did decide to keep up with our 4.5th gen and 5th gen fighter programs after all.

          Some people don't understand that you have a military that's prepared for what might happen, not what is happening or has happened in the past.

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        "What do we need a large navy for now?"

        If you think the threat from russia has gone you're kidding youself.

      • It's increasingly unclear that having planes launched from an aircraft carrier is a feature. Drones and missiles are a lot cheaper than manned planes (and require less logistical support).

        However having a good airbourne radar is a nice thing to have, and we can't have one of those because they need to be catapult launched. The helicopter ones don't go as high.

        Missiles don't have the same range as planes if you want to deny an area to other planes, and drones are completely untested in actual combat, as oppo

    • However successive UK governments have seen "improving" the navy as meaning strip it of as many ships as it can. Soon it'll consist of 2 men and a rowing boat.

      Except the rowing boat will be mothballed. Because they actually ordered a sailboat, with the option to upgrade to a rowboat. Turns out sails weren't practical so they decided to opt to have the rowlocks installed. Except BAE systems want to charge 323249084036540820147086e+38 pounds to do it even though they supposedly designed it to have rowlocks ea

  • Have they tried cordite?

  • We have yet to see some real advances in torpedo design. Weapons that could, hang around in a particular region and then select the target and seek to destroy it. Catch with a navy much like the airforce it can be subject to very effective area denial weapon systems. For example aircraft attacks can be readily disrupted by simply targeting them with attack radar, which has a significantly different signature to search radar. The pilot can either take evasive action foiling the attack or ignore the onboard

  • Yes, there are plenty of examples of ships being suck or disabled by a hit to a magazine.
    There are also others of ships being disabled, and then sunk or abandoned, when they lost power.
    Finally, there are many, many examples of ships disabled and on fire which continued fighting, sometimes with just one gun left firing.

    • Yes, there are plenty of examples of ships being suck or disabled by a hit to a magazine.
      There are also others of ships being disabled, and then sunk or abandoned, when they lost power.

      Yes, that's why nuclear aircraft carries have two reactors, except the Enterprise, which has eight. But they decided that was unnecessary. If someone gets close enough to actually shoot your aircraft carrier, you have already failed.

      You can expect combat vessels to have two reactors. Also, you can expect them to sink rapidly if they get hit hard enough to compromise even one reactor vessel.

  • For a gun, the energy necessary to fire is contained in the gunpowder. Uncontrolled release of this energy is bad.

    If you want railguns and lasers, you'll still have to carry the energy required to fire them aboard the ship.

  • are they protected against Retroreflector ?
  • by RavenLrD20k ( 311488 ) on Friday February 06, 2015 @07:38AM (#48996989) Journal
    So... How long before we build BattleMechs to carry these things for land based attacks?

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