Navys Multi-Use Super Laser
The Navy’s plan for a multi-use high-powered laser…
High-powered laser death rays such as Raytheon’s Laser Close-In Weapons System are already flaunting their capacity to locate and destroy incoming targets, but having a laser that only performs one task is simply inefficient. That’s why the Navy has invested $163 million in to an open-ended project to further develop a new technology known as the Free Electron Laser.
Unlike most lasers – which use crystals or chemicals to generate and concentrate light into a powerful beam along a particular wavelength – the Free Electron Laser uses super charged electron streams that operate along multiple wave lengths, effectively making it more powerful.
By developing the Free Electron Laser into a multi-purpose weapon, the Navy hopes the technology could one day become its ‘holy grail’ of lasers.
Program manager at the Office of Naval Research for the Free Electron Laser, Quentin Saulter, explained:
“It can be used as a sensor. It can be used as a tracker… It can enable kinetic kill systems to be more precise. It can be used for location, time-of-flight location, information exchange, can be used for communications, it can be used for target designation, it can be used for disruption.” [Danger Room, Wired]
Boeing has already received a $26 million task order to develop a prototype design. Preliminary designs were completed in March this year and the company hopes to deliver a working model by early 2012.
There are however, still several major hurdles to jump before the weapon meets military requirements. First off, the laser has to generate 100 kilowatts of energy before it can be considered military grade. The current Free Electron Laser at the Department of Energy’s Jefferson Lab in Virginia only generates 14 KW.
Another problem is the weather conditions at sea. Condensation in the air can greatly affect a lasers power, and considering that 100kw is only the minimum specification to weaponize a laser, it’s probably going to require a lot more than that to take out anti-ship-ballistic missiles.
However Saulter said he is ‘99.99 percent confident’ the Free Electron Laser can get to 100 kilowatts. He also points out that the laser’s other uses would not require so much power. For example, using the laser and an onboard gun sensor could uses as little as 1KW.
Development is taking place at Boeing’s directed-energy labs in Albuquerque, additional research being done at the national laboratories at Argonne, Los Alamos and Brookhaven; the Naval Postgraduate School; and Yale.