Saturday, August 9, 2014

Navy Lasers

According to reports, an Israeli Patriot missile shot down a Hamas drone.  If the report is accurate, consider the cost effectiveness of the engagement.  A $3M missile was used to shoot down a drone costing a few thousands of dollars.  No one knows the exact drone type but it was unlikely to have been too sophisticated.  This is not exactly an economical exchange rate.

The Navy has been pursuing laser weapons and possibly in a realistic manner.  While Navy laser development news is hard to come by, it appears that the Navy laser development is aimed not at Star Wars type technology but at a much more realistic and scaled back goal.  Reports suggest that the Navy is looking for a laser weapon that can engage small, slow objects such as mortar shells, small boats, and drones.  It is the latter goal, targeting drones, that offers a reasonable and effective use of a laser. 

As noted with the Israeli example cited above, shooting down cheap drones with expensive missiles is a waste.  A laser would offer a much more cost effective solution and presents a technical challenge that may well be achievable in a reasonable time frame.  Of course, power and effective range are among the technical obstacles that remain to be overcome.  Still, that level of performance may well be realistically achievable.

The US military is firmly committed to operating drones of all types over the battlefield and there is no reason to expect that our enemies won’t do the same.  We need a cost effective method for dealing with them.  If this type of use is the goal of the Navy’s laser program then they deserve praise.

To be fair, I have no explicit confirmation of the Navy’s goals for its laser program.  I’m ascribing a goal based on bits of information rather then hard documentation.  I’ll continue to look for confirmation.  For those of you who are interested in more information, CSBA put out an excellent report on the subject (1).

(1) Center For Strategic And Budgetary Assessments, “Changing The Game, The Promise of Directed Energy Weapons”, Gunzinger and Dougherty, 2012


  1. I don't get why SPAAGS arent deployed for this.
    We had radar ranged, directed, variable timer fused high explosive cannon shells in the forties
    Drones are far less survivable than Lancaster's and liberators

  2. My first reaction was surely you do not need a Patriot to shot down a UAV?

    So thinking it through, given the fact that they choose to use a Patriot, given all other options they had at their disposal,tells me, the UAV in question was something more sophisticated than a children''s toy you could purchase at Kmart, and was travelling at serious altitude.

    Lets assume it was travelling at too high an altitude for AAA. Even if it was not the case here, that is a situation we will face in the future.

    Once you say to high for AAA, you probably rule out small man portable systems as well. This leaves us with just large long range systems like Patriot.

    Lasers? Possible but I am not sure you are really talking that cheap. I cannot remember anybody using that term to describe any laser developed to kill anything at range.

    Is armed UAV to UAV combat possible? Not yet, but I think this is the solution. A reaper would only need a small gun pod.


    1. Mark, your conclusion about the degree of sophistication of the UAV is possible but it's not the conclusion I would make. Israel has no AAA that I'm aware of. There is not even a hint that Hamas had any kind of remotely advanced UAV. I don't know why they chose to use a Patriot.

      Lasers, once deployed, would be cheap to operate on a per shot basis, at least compared to missiles. Development, of course, is much more expensive.

      Your idea about A2A armed UAVs for an anti-UAV role is interesting and might be worth exploring. Good thought.

    2. Even shooting it down with an F16 cannon (or BVRAAM) would be cheaper than a Patriot?
      Maybe they were spooked enough that hitting it with a patriot made sense?

    3. TrT, quite right about the F-16. Who knows, maybe they just wanted to do a live fire exercise of their Patriot battery?

  3. Well, gentleman the technology is already there ( or almost there, but pretty close )

    So how come israel might never heard of it ? Strange. They could atleast adopt some reinmetall lases for testing.
    But why do that when you can have patriots and iron dome with US taxpayer money. Hmm just wondering .

    1. It sounds good, but its short on detail.

      If it obliterated an 82mm solid steel sphere thats impressive
      If it was an 82mm, 1mm thick, steel sphere, and it was just deformed and knocked off course, thats less so.

      The same goes for cutting through a girder.
      If it just sliced one in half light sabre style, thats awesome, if it was a long girder, supported at either end, and the middle was heated a bit so it couldnt support the weight....

    2. Cause none of these systems are yet ready to be deployed. There isn't a single production grade system out there. All are still very experimental. Are they getting close? yes, but they still have a ways to go.

    3. And what better way to test a near operatinal system than in israel now or in the future.
      If it works good, if it does not work so good, they can learn on the real experience not staged range test.
      Remeber how the US Phalancs C-RAM, was made in urgency for the use in Iraq.

  4. What about jaming the drones?
    Apparently its fairly simple to jam line of sight controlled UAVs

  5. Just don't try using it when its dusty, or raining or the enemy uses smoke. All of these cause major disruptions to a laser. Plus power drops off at the SQUARE of the distance. Twice as far, 1/4 the power. For fixed defenses tied into a power grid, maybe you'll be able to push enough power. Much better solution: restart LA/O-X program for the Air Force. The Navy could probably benefit from a carrier version too.

    Randall Rapp

  6. OK. Something else. How about modified switchblade drone. Cheap UAV to counter cheap UAV. Can distibute them throughout infantary units to provide wide coverage. How about dual use? UAV can be used to target either slow flying drones, helicoptors or, dive and explode into ground targets. Not sure of the cost, but fairly sure its goning to be cheaper then lasers.
    Dave P

  7. The kilowatt-class lasers will be useful in the near term to mid-term for close in point defense.

    But if we want a weaponized laser which is effective out to 20 or 30 kilometers, a much more expensive and complicated megawatt-class, multi-spectrum free electron laser which can burn through a variety of atmospheric interferences will be needed.

    As implemented aboard a warship, megawatt-class lasers will not be cheap to acquire, and the initial versions will likely be finicky, tempermental beasts to operate and maintain under the stress of a high intensity combat engagement.

    You have carry at least two of these large megawatt-class lasers aboard a warship in case one of them burns out in the course of a combat engagement. Because of their large footprints, it is my opinion that the warships which carry megawatt-class lasers must be designed from the keel up to handle these large devices; and provision for the lasers and their supporting equipment must be an integral part of the warship's foundational architecture.

    If one distributes the cost of a megawatt-class laser and the specialized onboard engineering plant needed to support it, the cost will not be pennies per shot, it will be several dollars per shot.

    Their costs aside, megawatt-class laser which could reliably reach out to 30 kilometers could play a substantial role in allowing a task force commander to manage fleet defense ordnance consumption patterns and rates in real time, doing so in ways that maximize protection of the fleet while at the same time allowing some portion of the fleet's defensive resources to be reallocated towards offensive missions.

  8. A ship carrying at a minimum of twp megawatt class lasers, clearly we are not talking about a small ship. Add in a normal power requirements of a modern warship and you have a very large demand for power.

    Given that as these weapons evolve, they will get more powerful not less, only increasing the demand for power.

    Are we likely to reach a point where you need a nuclear power plant in order to meet that demand?


  9. laser weapons, didnt they also need like tremendous amount of energy in relation to their power output ? and didnt they need time to "burn" the target in the exact spot and that in the thick lower atmoshpere too ?

    a radar guided AAA might be more effective and cheaper than a laser Weapon thats powerful enough to kill drones.. why go for expensive answer (using patriots or lasers) when you can get cheap low tech weapon augmented with sophisticated targetting ?

    i always wonder if in a real heavy conflict, the enemy wont use some kind of high speed maneurvering decoy drones which purpose is to deplete the defender's anti missile system ? this also applicable to Ship's anti missile defense...

    the pursuit for high tech weapons may be a white elephant that useless in the next serious conflict.. i mean, a rifle from Boer War or Zulu war can still easily kill a modern US infantryman decked with body armour and all those high tech kit..


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