2018 isn't really that far away. Got laser?
Existing anti-missile systems include rapid-fire guns designed to shoot down missiles at close range.Take it easy. Do it right. Plan to integrate it with existing technology to minimize technology risk. Rome wasn't build in a day. Yes ... Yes ....
But a reliable laser weapon could do the same job with higher precision, speed-of-light engagement and without running out of ammunition.
It's an idea that's been in development at the U.S. Office of Naval Research since the 1980s. The goal is to create a megawatt, or 1 million-watt, laser weapon.
Last month, scientists at the Los Alamos National Lab demonstrated they are capable of producing the electrons needed to generate those megawatt-class laser beams. A preliminary design review began Thursday and continues today in Virginia, according to the Office of Naval Research.
"The FEL is expected to provide future U.S. Naval forces with a near-instantaneous laser ship defense in any maritime environment throughout the world," Quentin Saulter, program manager for the Office of Naval Research said in the release.
The free-electron laser project began as a science and technology program at the Office of Naval Research in the 1980s and matured into a 14-kilowatt prototype that was developed at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News.
Work began last year on a 100-kilowatt prototype moving the program closer to the Navy's goal of a megawatt laser.
Its breakthrough in December puts researchers nine months ahead of schedule for its 2011 goals.
"This is a major leap forward for the program and for FEL technology throughout the Navy," Saulter said in the release.
There's still a long way to go before U.S. ships will be equipped with free-electron lasers. The earliest the Office of Naval Research is hoping to test a laser at sea is 2018.
Sure it works great on missiles. Probably very good on on the anti-swarm front as well. Oops.
I can hear the brief now circa 2027.......
LT Laserswodaddy: In this vignette, the USS OBAMA (CVN-81) and its escorts are ambushed by a swarm of small boats while exiting the southern end of the Suez Canal after the first transit allowed by the Islamic Republic of Egypt since 2012. With minimal warning, the only systems available are crew served weapons and the onboard FEL-CIWS. At 500 yards the ....
CDR Lawfarecockblock: Wait - what are these "swarm boats?"
LT Laserswodaddy: They are mostly open skiffs loaded with explosives for suicide attacks and other fast boats with small arms and RPG. With warning time at 500 yards and the FEL-CIWS already warmed up, we would expect ...
CDR Lawfarecockblock: So, you are telling me that there are unprotected and exposed people exposed in these boats?
LT Laserswodaddy: Yes sir.
CDR Lawfarecockblock: Will they be exposed to this laser weapon?
LT Laserswodaddy: Yes sir.
CDR Lawfarecockblock: What impact will this laser have on them?
LT Laserswodaddy: Well, our hope would be that the heat generated by the laser will set off the explosives and fuel on the boats, but if the crew on those boats are in the way - I suppose the few thousand degrees of heat will fry them rather quickly.
CDR Lawfarecockblock: (after getting a dose of smelling salts by his assistant, LTJG Misscustomfittedkhakis) You mean they will be burned alive! Good God man! Don't you read history? Don't you know the evil of NAPALM? Don't you understand the concept of proportional response! Have you no decency! No, this won't do. This weapon will only be used on non-manned targets. I will not approve this weapon that might subject the Commander for prosecution under the 2019 Fuzzy Wuzzy Huggly Snuggly Conventions of War. Attorney General Kucinich simply will not like this. No, not at all.
Brief me again on the MDS and how we can employ this instead ....
UDATE: On a not unrelated subject - I also have a post over at USNIBlog asking the question, "What happened to experimentation."