New from Boeing: Compact Laser Weapon System

Boeing laser gun (courtesy fool.com)

“Boeing’s new Compact Laser Weapon System (LWS) breaks down into four parts, each transportable by one or two Marines,” fool.com reports. “Boeing says these components include: a battery, a water-cooled chiller, a commercially available fiber laser and an upgraded beam director, weighing 40% less than a previous model. In total, the system weighs about 650 pounds and would probably be operated by a squad of eight to 12 soldiers or Marines.” Easy to schlep, fiendishly complicated to use. How battle-ready is that? Still, Boeing’s LWS seems like it could be a pretty effective weapon system. The company claims that it’s . . .

Able to be assembled in just 15 minutes, LWS is capable of generating an energy beam of up to 10 kilowatts that can, depending on the power level, be used to acquire, track, and identify a target — or even destroy it — at ranges of at least 22 miles. The weapon is designed specifically to track and attack moving aerial targets such as incoming artillery rounds, and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Destroying incoming artillery rounds with a laser? That’s some fancy shootin’, Tex. Or a tall tale. Not that Boeing would make exaggerated claims about a weapons system to puff-up its stock price – even if the rest of the fool.com article practically screams BUY! No one in the defense industry would ever dream of such a thing. Or low-ball the cost and complexity of a weapon system to lure Uncle Sam into [what turns out to be] a ginormous “over-spend.” Just saying’ . . .

comments

  1. avatar Removed_californian says:

    Wonder how well it works up against Jamal jihad.

  2. avatar Red In Texas says:

    For The Navy

  3. avatar actionphysicalman says:

    Destroying incoming artillery rounds with a laser has been done before, it is ‘man portable’ aspect that is new.

    1. avatar Chicago Steve says:

      It could probably take down a F35, i’m surprised they don’t crash with the sun shining down on them at the wrong angle

      1. avatar JasonM says:

        I doubt it. The F35 would have to successfully take off first. Highly improbable.

  4. avatar Dash4 says:

    Well, I’m of the mind that I don’t believe it until i see it either… but apparently the military has had some ability to do these low altitude intercepts (to some degree) for a couple/few years now (albeit in a vehicle mounted platform). Lots of info out there. Who knows what’s true. http://www.cnet.com/news/army-laser-weapon-kos-mortar-rounds/

    Now how that would actually work on a real battlefield, who knows… but I don’t doubt that it’s physically possible. As far as that ‘crew served’ device they are referencing – who knows. At some point though, it will be a reality, I have little doubt. They’re already talking about similar systems on future aircraft carriers. My only question every time I hear directed energy being the ‘future’ is: how hard would it be to counter such a defense with something as simple as a mirror? Maybe that’s a stupid question. I think many of us will know the answer to all of this in our lifetimes though.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      Well, for one, a mirror on an aircraft would have to surround the aircraft–i.e., the entire skin would have to be (perfectly) reflective. I would guess that stealth would be eliminated. Second, a big parabolic mirror on the end of an artillery round would, again I surmise, adversely effect aerodynamics and range.
      Do these systems work? Most assuredly yes. The ship-borne directed energy system is far more powerful than this particular device–because it has access to megawatts of power. Its only real limitation is that it is limited to line of sight versus enemy watercraft. The range against missiles and aircraft is substantially longer.
      The technological hurdle has been inventing an energizing system (read: battery) that can be transported and carries enough juice to make it more than a one-shot wonder.

      1. avatar Dash4 says:

        Makes sense. Yeah, guessing that was more thinking out loud in a theoretical sense. Can see that being very difficult to actually employ the real world.

      2. avatar JasonM says:

        If the navy wants to perform indirect fire with laser weapons, to shoot past the horizon, they can.
        First they need to put a big mirror on the bottom of an airplane (think an AWACS, but upside down). Next they get the plane to fly a course between the ship and the target. Then it’s just like playing pool: bank the shot off the mirror, set to the right angle, and presto! Direct hit.

    2. avatar John says:

      Well according to various sci-fi games and authors, directed energy weapons spell the demise of aircraft on the battlefield (replaced with typically NOE flying drones/cruise missiles with evasive capability). And artillery needs to be fired in large quantities (and probably correspondingly smaller rounds) to overload point defense systems like what this laser could evolve into. Aerosols with laser-reflective particles and ablative armor are the defenses against laser (again, according to SF) – the aerosol deflects & scatters the beam. I could see that the first volley of artillery could consist of aerosol rounds to make it harder to stop the following ones.

      Anyway, interesting to see.

      1. avatar JasonM says:

        That sci-fi is based fairly well on our modern understanding of science. A computer controlled laser AAA grid would be nearly impenetrable. At a range of 100km, a laser would take under 500µs to reach its target (to put that in perspective, it could make the 200km round trip nearly 50 times in the literal blink of an eye). A jet traveling at 1000m/s (almost Mach 3) would travel 50cm in the time it takes the laser to travel that distance. If the computer released the shot as soon as it got the fuselage in its digital crosshairs, a miss would be virtually impossible, and the hit would be no more than 50cm from the point of aim. At a range of 10km, the impact area would be 10cm across (about the size of a large human hand).
        Without complete stealth (radar, IR, visual, EM, etc.) aircraft would never be able to reach a battle zone without going through several minutes of pinpoint accurate fire. And without some sort of deflector shields (there is promising research on these), no aircraft sortie could have a decent chance of success…in clear skies. On a stormy day, the lasers would lose much of their effectiveness.
        The same holds true for artillery, missiles, drones, or other smaller targets, except that the targeting computer would have to lead the target (a simple calculation) to ensure a hit.

    3. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

      Mirrors absorb light BEFORE reflection. Now imagine how hot things will get when it is absorbed. It may produce so much heat that the mirror would melt before successfully reflecting the energy. Also, mirrors are not 100% reflective, and even one thats are above 90% still have a protective coating. Any defect in the coating will cause light to scatter, and absorb more energy.

      TLDR: High energy lasers burn through mirrors.

  5. avatar dlj95118 says:

    …10kW in a carry-able configuration?! That ain’t trivial.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Yup.
      That’s a lotta juice !

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        If it can track inbound artillery, it can determine where it was fired from and a counter-battery solution sent to your artillery crews.

        Make ’em pay for shooting at you.

    2. avatar JasonM says:

      That’s almost enough to power my iPhone for the entire day.

  6. avatar Grindstone says:

    A more stationary version would be great for base defense. Maybe the portable one for FOBs?

    1. avatar doesky2 says:

      Would be cool if it could run for an extended period of time and swept through a targeted zone with the capability of blinding islamotards scoping the FOB.

      1. avatar John L. says:

        Apart from being both iillegal under the laws of war, and a PR nightmare, a 10-kW laser would be as much of a hazard to the people around itnif used in this fashion. Unless everyone wore laser goggles. All of the time. Even inside, because people open doors and reflections happen.

        The original article didn’t say, but I’d guess the operating wavelength is nominally eye-safe, e.g. that doesn’t get passed onto the retina. Not that you’d want to stare into it – 10 kw is no joke – but it doesn’t take much power to damage the retina if the laser light makes it into the eye.

        1. avatar Will in Oregon says:

          what makes laser weapons illegal under the laws of war specifically?

        2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

          Wavelength (color) is pretty much irrelevant at those power levels … it is going to fry anything in its path in short order.

          The really important parameter is power density. If that laser puts out 10 kW of power, how wide is the beam? If the beam is a 1 cm diameter circle at 10 miles, focusing 10 kW into a 1 cm diameter circle is going to get intensely hot really fast. Think of it this way. Ever take a magnifying glass and focus the sun to a tiny spot when the sun is almost directly overhead? I have. That tiny spot starts to burn wood almost instantly meaning the temperature in that tiny spot is well above 454 degrees F. Now imagine taking a magnifying glass that is almost 12 feet in diameter and focusing the sun to a circle that is 1 cm in diameter. I am fairly confident the temperature would be well over 2,000 degrees F and I wouldn’t be surprised if the temperature was upwards of 4,000 degrees F. That is what this laser would do out to whatever distance the beam is that size.

          Note: we receive about 1 kW of light energy per square meter at the Earth’s surface when the sun is directly overhead. Focusing 10 square meters of sunlight means we would be directing 10 kW of light to the focal point. In order to “capture” and focus 10 square meters of sunlight, you would thus need a magnifying glass just under 12 feet (3.6 meters) in diameter.

        3. avatar John L. says:

          Will: it’s not lasers per se, as weapons employed with the intent to maim or disable. I suspect you’d be committing a war crime if you employed the laser as suggested, as the intent is to blind.

          US: true re power density, you don’t want to stare into a 10-kw beam at any wavelength. However, keep in mind a couple of things. The human eye isn’t a bad optic, and a parallel incoming beam of light can focus down to a micron-size spot on the retina. Power density goes as the inverse square of the spot size, so the beam at the retina can be far more concentrated than it is at the pupil. The maximum permissible exposure at the cornea, for instance at 1 micron wavelength (invisible but still gets focused on the retina) is only around 10 mW/cm^2 for one second. You won’t even feel that on your skin, but even a diffuse reflection from a 10kW laser could get you there.

        4. avatar Grindstone says:

          I know that NATO has a specific agreement with Russia to not shine lasers into the cockpits of aircraft.

      2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        doesky2,

        A common 12 volt marine deep-cycle battery has a capacity of about 70 amp-hours depending on the exact size. That battery is about the size of a typical sport-utility vehicle battery and weighs roughly 50 pounds give-or-take. It could deliver 10 kW bursts for a total of something like 60 seconds before that battery was pretty much totally dead.

        The question that I have is how long would a laser burst be necessary to render a mechanical target inoperative? Will a laser burst punch through the skin of a vehicle or airplane in 0.05 seconds and then cause a catastrophic failure to the engine or avionics or whatever within 0.95 seconds? Then you could inactivate about 60 targets — assuming your one and only shot per target is perfect.

  7. avatar Ralph says:

    I hope it’s more reliable than the Boeing Dreamliner.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “I hope it’s more reliable than the Boeing Dreamliner.”

      The 787 is fine.

      They finally got around to doing what they damn sure should have done in the first place by mounting the LiPo battery in a sealed stainless steel box vented to outside the aircraft.

  8. avatar Joe Liberty says:

    If they don’t call it CLaWS I will be very disappointed.

  9. avatar bob says:

    Seriously? Carried and operated by marines? Is this a leftover April fool’s bit? Just saying.

  10. avatar neiowa says:

    I understand this is to be named as the XM000 McNamara. The AirFarce being the likely buyer.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      If it’s to be named for the late Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, it would have to be used against American forces, not by American forces.

      McNamara was responsible for as many American deaths as the NVA.

  11. avatar Dan F says:

    Still waiting for the phased plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range…

  12. avatar Southern Cross says:

    I’m surprised the giant airborne laser that is installed in a 747 hasn’t been used on ISIS.

    The plane can certainly fly high enough to evade any AAA they may have and they are a good target with small dispersed groups that converge for an attack.

    Just my thoughts, and I did read Dale Brown novels in the past.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “I’m surprised the giant airborne laser that is installed in a 747 hasn’t been used on ISIS.”

      There’s a *much* more cost effective way of doing that.

      A Predator loiters high overhead.

      Telescope cameras look for a target.

      Target found, illuminate it with an IR laser.

      Your handy-dandy Predator releases a munition with a seeker head looking for the laser dot.

      Your munition steers itself to the laser dot.

      Ahmed the Tango introduces himself to Allah.

      Lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat as necessary…

  13. avatar JasonK says:

    I dunno, I don’t see a 10kW laser doing anything about an artillery shell aside from making it a little bit hotter (since, you know, it’s going to be air cooled in flight). I suppose it’s possible to get it hot enough to detonate an HE shell in flight but that would depend on whether the HE inside is that temperature sensitive (some like C4 just aren’t). Some quick back-of-the-hand calculations show that, at full power and with no other heat paths, a 10kW laser would heat up 1kg of iron by ~77.5˚C every second. While this seems like a lot, the melting point of iron is 1,538˚C so it would take almost 20 seconds to melt a hole.

    Also, where is the power coming from? 10kW doesn’t seem like much compared to chunk a metal but it’s a metric $%^&ton (technical term) compared to current battery storage technology. It must contain some kind of ICE generator which charges up a bank of caps or batteries.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “ICE generator which charges up a bank of caps”

      The ones I’ve heard about use a large capacitor bank. Your 10KW power supply charges the caps.

      Caps can discharge massive current far, far faster than a battery.

      1. avatar JasonK says:

        I wonder what the recharge time is. Caps might discharge fast but recharge is a function of generator current delivery.

  14. avatar Anaxis says:

    Interesting…. seems like it wasn’t long ago, that the first “operational” mobile laser weapon system barely fit on a 747. Now they’ve got one which looks to be about the same size as a TOW launcher.

    Lasers are cool and all, but do they qualify as a “gun”?
    But rail-guns definitely can be defined as such. Though existing rail-guns being tested are nowhere near as compact & portable as this Boeing laser (yet), IMO they have far more potential in terms of destructiveness and the ability to defeat both direct & passive countermeasures. A rail-gun projectile flying at nearly 10km/s, aimed downrange with old-school math (rather than on-board computers), isn’t going to be stopped by anything.

  15. avatar Rusty Chains says:

    Defensive modification to arty shells: small explosive timed to turn large incoming into large number of smaller incoming even if laser sets it off early a load of bits still arrive, or use low melting point metal like zinc to hold the package together….laser hits the large shell and melts out the smaller bits which keep on coming.

    I see development of this turning cruise missiles into old dead technology, same for ground support aircraft and bombers other than those usable in bad weather. clouds might help work against lasers by diffusing the beam, but it would need to be pretty heavy cloud cover.

  16. avatar NavyRetGold says:

    Did you say Fool.com ?? Excuse me while I LMAO… HAHAHAHA!!! You could not pick a less respectable web site, The idiocy is close to infinite at Fool.com.

  17. avatar teebonicus says:

    I’ll approve only when they are available to civilians for an affordable price.

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