|Maritime Laser Demonstration program creates a laser gun |
The test occurred Wednesday near San Nicholas Island, off the coast of Central California in the Pacific Ocean test range, from a laser gun mounted onto the deck of the USS Paul Foster. In a video of the event, the small boat can be seen catching fire and ultimately bursting into flames, a conflagration caused by the navy's distant gun. Some details of the event were classified, including the exact range of the shot, but Carr could provide some information: "We're talking miles, not yards," Carr said.
The Navy, Army and other armed forces have been working to incorporate so called "directed energy" laser weapons in a range of new guns, from tank-mounted to guns on planes or even unmanned balloons. But this marks the first test of a laser weapon at sea -- and proof that laser rifles are no mere Buck Rogers daydream.
“This is the first time a [high-energy-laser], at these power levels, has been put on a Navy ship, powered from that ship and used to defeat a target at-range in a maritime environment,” said Peter Morrison, program officer for the Office of Naval Research. "The Navy is moving strongly towards directed energy," according to Carr.
The weapon, called the maritime laser demonstrator, was built in partnership with Northrop Grumman. It focused 15 kilowatts of energy by concentrating it through a solid medium -- hence the name.
|The weapon set fire to a bobbing and weaving boat|
"To begin to address a cruise missile threat, we'd need to get up to hundreds of kilowatts," Carr said.
The Navy is working on just such a gun of course, called the FEL -- for free-electron laser, which doesn't use a gain medium and is therefore more versatile -- it was tested in February consuming a blistering 500 kilovolts of energy, producing a supercharged electron beam that can burn through 20 feet of steel per second!
The FEL will easily get into the kilowatt power range. It can also be easily tuned as well, to adjust to environmental conditions, another reason it is more flexible than the fixed wavelength of solid-state laser. But the Navy doesn't expect to release megawatt-class FEL weapons until the 2020s; among the obstacles yet to be overcome, the incredible power requirements of the FEL weapons require careful consideration.
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