15 September 2011

US Navy Laser Test: Beam vs. Boat

In April of this year, the US Navy tested their maritime solid state laser against a small motorboat. This DEW system was developed by Northrop Grumman at a cost $98 million dollars, and is aimed at the changing role for the US Navy, instead of Russians, the Navy is forced to deal with pirates.
The interesting note about this live-fire test, is that high-energy laser (HEL) was mounted to a US  naval vessel (the USS Paul Foster) and fired at a small motorboat during realistic ocean conditions off of the coast of California.

Lasers and the US Navy

The Navy envisions these types of DEW systems being mounted on most naval vessels for defensive operations, a sort-of-energy-shielding if you will, the HEL would be used to intercept incoming missiles or shells, and to knock out small pirate boats. 
The laser itself is concerned a high-energy solid state laser, which means that the laser beam is 15 kilowatt, however when you watch the test firing, it seems too slow to be an effective defensive system. To solve this, the Navy hopes to boost the power output 100 kilowatt, which would damage the motor within a second, rather than eight to ten, and arm eighth classes of warships with the HEL.

The roles of the Seaborne Laser

Given the HEL accuracy, it would highly effective in both offensive and defensive roles. When used as an offensive device, its ability to be targets on a specific small target, like the motor of a boat, incoming attacker, like radar dish, communication systems, weapons, and propulsion. This, unlike the current Mark 45 Mod 4 127mm naval gun ,the HEL allows for role flexibility, and can deny the enemy. Another useful element is the invisibility of the beam, this allows for the US Navy to get the drop on a target without the telltale signs of traditional gunpowder weaponry.
The invisibility of the HEL would take a  psychology toll on attackers, especially ill-educated pirates, and this could dismay future attacks.  In its defensive role, the HEL could knock out incoming missiles, aircraft, and warning smaller vessels to stay away with a more low-powered heat beam, (like pirate vessels.).


Here is the video of the US Navy testing the laser against a small boat motor.


  1. There is one problem with an HEL as a main armament for ship: its range is limited by Line of Sight. The curvature of the earth limits the range of the weapon (absent some helo with a mirror to bounce the beam) to about 11 miles on the surface. What this means is that it is of very limited utility when it comes to supporting land operations.

  2. As I understand it, the Navy plans to use the HEL a defensive weapon to knock down shells and missiles. As an offensive weapon, it could target another boats engines, propulsion, and weaponry. If you want to support land operations, a missile or even a railgun are a better choice.

    Ray-guns are direct line of sight weapons- you can't arc them to have them hit a target beyond the horizon. This is not bad in a weapon designed to replace conventional guns, which are used as line-of-sight weapons anyway.

    If I was trying to hit land targets beyond the horizon with a laser, I would either mount the laser on a satellite or put a mirror in orbit and bounce the beam around the world. Nothing prevents me from flying an inflatable mirror over the horizon and then reflecting a laser beam off of it to burn our blast the target of my ire to oblivion- like ships, tanks, cities, or individual people!!

    Speaking of blasters- I designed a laser gun to be used in the flash-fiction Empty Places. If it proves satisfactory, you'll see it coming along in the later installments of Empty Places- watch for it!! I based the pulse laser off of hard-science discussions of energy weapons at Atomic Rockets, Orbital Vector, and Luke Campbell's site How To Build A Laser Death Ray- with some assumptions and calculations of my own.

    Christopher Phoenix