Friday, July 21, 2017

Will The New Seaborne Laser Weapon System Tip The balance Of Military Power Back Towards America.

by Xavier Connolly

If you believe what you read or see from mainstream media, you will now be rejoicing or quaking in your boots at the latest press releases from The Pentagon. For some years defence analysts have been warning that US politicians, media commentators and devotees of the idea of American exceptionalism were deluding themselves in clinging to their faith in the superiority of US military technology to deter challenges from rival powers to American geopolitical dominance.

The Defense Department in Washington have recently announced that their latest weapon, a seaborne laser cannon is close to being ready for operational use. Press releases hint that the laser weapon will be a game changer. Unfortunately Iran, an ally of Russia and China, lead the world in this area of technology and if Iran has it you can bet Russia and China do to, or at least they have a deal with Iran to make the weapons available to them if needed.

US Navy has started operational tests of what they claim is the world's first drone-killing laser
which is reportedly able to move at the speed of light and to be 'more precise than a bullet'.
Laser weapons, which have been in development for decades, project a tight beam of directed photons (light) that strike their target almost instantaneously. In tests energy released at light frequencies from the weapon downed a target drone by setting its wing on fire.

The beam is silent and because it operates at a frequency above the visible light range is not visible to the human eye. The Laser Weapons System (LaWS) has its own generator and uses no solid ammunition. Said to be highly accurate, it is expected to be very effective when used against small, speedy targets, including incoming rockets, small drones and artillery shells.
The cost is said to be "about a dollar a shot" (not counting the billions of dollars spent on development.

 The 30-kilowatt laser weapon has been installed on the USS Ponce, currently deployed in the Persian Gulf. It is predicted to be fully operational by 2020. A full-power hundred-kilowatt Free Electron Laser is slated for testing in 2018, and will probably be installed on the Navy’s new Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers. The Navy plans to create 150 kilowatts lasers in more distant future.

According to what the media is telling us, the US has made a great leap forward in the race to acquire a death ray superweapon, which will give the military a critical advantage over any potential enemy in the world.

The announcement and the tests, which Russia, China and other emerging powers such as India and Pakistan as well as NATO allies will now be watching, testify to the US Navy's having achieved some progress in developing a small-scale laser weapon system capable of striking small targets at limited ranges. What is lacking is an objective review. As mainstream media are these days little more than a propaganda arm of government, I will just have to give it my best shot and hope my engineering experience is up to the task.

Abilities and limitations of Laser Weapons Systems.

Directed energy weapons, including lasers and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons are still in their infancy. While EMP weapons offer the potential of being effective if fired from great distances, the maximum range of lasers is limited as laser energy is relatively quickly diffused in the atmosphere, indeed adverse atmospheric conditions such as dust, snow or heavy rain, smoke or fog can render them ineffective. Atmospheric absorption, scattering, and turbulence will all prevent shipboard lasers from being effective all weather weapons.

A laser beam does not instantly burn through denser materials such as metals. The time needed to inflict a level of damage that would disable a large airborne vehicle or heavy projectile is unfeasible when the target is moving at flight speeds. With no explosive impact, a laser could fail to stop the target. In theory, laser weapons are best used for defensive operations, but better defensive weapons are already available.

The LaWS has a very limited operational range – one to three km. Modern warships would not need to go that close to a US ship equipped with this system in order to disable it. Lasers are no substitute for anti - aircraft guns or surface to air missiles. They cannot be used as primary strike weapons due to the poor range.

The operator of a laser weapon may be hampered by movement of the target, movement of the firing platform, decoys or multiple war warheads that have already been developed and that the enemy may use. Countermeasures to laser guidance also include laser detection systemssmoke screen and anti-laser active protection systems. Coating materials that can absorb or reflect laser energy are also available according to military publications.

Are the claims of laser weapons' low cost justified? Getting off a blast of laser energy may well cost only a dollar, but a laser’s sophisticated optical guidance system and focusing lenses are not cheap. The weapon is fast from firing to striking, but a target must be designated and a complex procedure carried out to  ensure accuracy. Mainstram media may suggest it is as easy as firing a water pistol, but it does take a few seconds, precious seconds that might not be available in a conflict situation.. So, it is not exactly “the speed of light”. Apart from that, seaborne laser weapons will be installed on a platform vulnerable to precision-guided weapons.

 With all the limitations mentioned above, the weapon will not likely be ready for prime time anytime soon.
Hype aside, The USS Ponce had this weapon for quite some time as is evident from the rust which can be seen forming on the mounting brackets when the publicity video does a closeup.

Yes, it can take out a Somali pirate boat! 

The other issue with laser weapons not mentioned in this article, however, (probably not extremely significant for this shorter range, short burst drone killer) is the phenomenon of "thermal blooming" prevelant in IR wavelength weapons. The laser heats the air around the beam, resulting in "lensing" due to refraction in the lower density heated air adjacent to the circumference of the beam . The beam expands ("blooms" ), resulting in a lower energy flux (energy per unit area) which decreases the effectiveness of the weapon. This is/was(?) a significant issue in use of CO2 and other IR lasers used for long range high energy shots.

All in all then, this announcement appears to be little more than military bluster as The Pentagon, the US Defense Department and the American exceptionalism brigade resist having to come to terms with the fact that Assad, with help from Russia and Iran, has won the Syrian civil war against the US and Saudi Arabian backed Islamic extremists of ISIS ans Al Nusra front.


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