back to article US wants trucks mounted with frikkin' laser beams

US arms and aerospace manufacturer Boeing announced on Friday that it had landed a contract to develop truck-mounted laser cannons for the US Army. As part of the Army's High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) project, Boeing will produce a "rugged beam control system", which will be mounted on a monstrous 20 tonne …

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  1. Dave

    Brasso

    Are the Taliban going to be spending more of their free time polishing their ordnance with Brasso?

    Dave.

  2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Not so safe?

    While there is not the risk of undetonated munitions falling back to Earth, what about any poor bugger who happens to be looking up when the laser hits? Unless they chose a wavelength that the eye is opaque to (and that may not be feasable depending on the type of laser capable of enough energy), then lots of blinded people from even a tiny fraction of the laser energy being scattered back is the not-so great alternative.

  3. Robin

    disco balls !

    First fire something at the laser to make a nice big bang with some smoke then fire some disco balls at them.

    Everyone is looking up at the first shell bursts basking in the glory of their laser defence and suddenly they are looking at a little more reflected glory than they real wanted, ouch.

  4. david wilson

    Backscatter?

    >>"...what about any poor bugger who happens to be looking up when the laser hits?..."

    Would there really be likely to be enough light hitting any potential onlookers to cause problems?

    Unless the object is covered in perfect mirrors, wouldn't any scattered light be, well, scattered by the time it reaches the distance of any likely observers

    The target is also likely to be moving very quickly, so the image isn't likely to be stationary on anyone's retina, and even if the target was particularly reflective, meaning the reflected light might be relatively concentrated in some directions, its movement would continually move the points of concentration around.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They don't stand a chance

    If they can't develop spray reducing mudflaps and those barriers that stop card going under trucks, what chance do they stand of putting a frikin' lay-zer on the truck?

    (I have driven in America on the motorway in the sh*tting down rain, I thought I was going to die every time I had to deal with a truck.)

  6. Dillon Pyron

    Mudflaps and phalanx

    "If they can't develop spray reducing mudflaps and those barriers that stop card going under trucks, what chance do they stand of putting a frikin' lay-zer on the truck?"

    And just what do you think those rubber thingies with the naked women are? :-)

    The Navy has the phalanx. If a wall of lead is good enough for them, it should be good enough for the Army. And it works, right now.

  7. Starace

    Could be an interesting challenge...

    Tracking incoming rounds is an easy job, and they tend to be well behaved targets where you can easily predict the future path.

    The only problem is actually hitting the thing. With actual counter artillery you can do automatic correction by tracking the incoming and outgoing rounds and making them converge. Not quite so easy with a laser as there's nothing to actually track, you just have to assume the equipment is set up properly and if you tell the equipment to steer the beam in direction x it'll hit something. (OK, you can set the beam to scan & acquire, and look for reflections, but that isn't ideal either, and matt black paint on the rounds could probably stop it working.)

    You also have to consider the size of the target. With an ABM laser you're hitting a big fragile target. A mortar or artilliary round or an RPG is much smaller and much more robust.

    So you've got to manage to get a high powered laser into an extremely narrow beam, and get it to dwell on a moving target for long enough to cook into pre-detonation, which is going to take a while. Rather them than me.

    They also seem to have forgotten the small problem of dealing with cheap artilliary - they can chuck more than one round at you at a time, and they don't have to be far away. How quickly can this thing switch targets if there were (for example) 5 incoming rounds? And they're all only 30 seconds away?

    After all, artilliary detection and tracking systems are usually designed to handle huge numbers of targets ('cos there could easily be 100's or 1000's within a given region), with the idea of tracking them back to source so you can send a thankyou gift in return. Actually trying in-flight interception is usually a non-starter, too many targets and not enough time to deal with them for the outcome to be worthwhile.

    Personally I'd stick with something that actually does work - either make sure you're not at the receiving end when the rounds arrive, work out where they came from (good old radar track and predict source & target) & quickly send something in return, or go back to the old methods and string up nets and blankets which can be surprisingly good at catching mortars and RPGs without them going off...

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  9. heystoopid

    Pipedreams

    Pipedreams and logistical nightmare, sounds like money for another secret black project , of different evil design!

  10. Kurt Guntheroth

    what does "high power" mean to you?

    An artillary defense laser has to put enough energy onto a metal round to heat it to destruction in a fraction of a second. Compared to that, your retina is less than nothing. Still the cool thing about a laser is that it delivers practically all its energy to a spot at the end of the beam. Scattered light probably won't be a worse problem than other things that go flash-boom on the battlefield (some of which are pretty severe problems).

    On the other hand, a good solid reflection would put almost as much energy onto a secondary target as is on the mirror. Your defense here would be a numbers game. It's a big battlefield with only a few little eyeballs scattered about in it, so most of the time you won't be looking right at the thing.

    I would kinda like to know if a shiny round would be immune. Imagine what a photogenic, futuristic battlefield it would be with chrome plated shells, colorful laser beams, and tough soldierly men (not women!) obsessively polishing their ammo. It'll be hard for Hollywood to top the special effects of the real thing. I predict a resurgence of kinghts-in-armor (in the UK) and cowboys-and-indians (in the USA) movies, with more manageable special effects.

  11. the Jim bloke Silver badge

    I am all in favour of developing lasers for the battlefield

    after all, Ive been reading SF for the last 30+ years

    and even if it doesnt work as desired, its still progress.

    For people who are worried about reflections - equip your troops with mirrorshades - civilians can hide in cellars, same as they have to now.

    I think a few authors have pointed out that lasers dont work that well in smoke.

    even more fun, I work as a surveyor, and one of the basic tools we use is a prism which reflects directly back to its origin anything within about 30 degrees....

  12. Sean Nevin

    Laser effectivness

    A high-powered laser hitting an object does not cause it to burn or melt. (At least not with these kinds). The destruction of the object is caused by it absorbing far too much energy for it to dissipate. This is why it is possible to say, pop balloons or even light cigarettes with highend laser pointers. Polishing the thing won't help, because there's still too much energy being pumped into it.

  13. robert cooke

    They've already got one working.

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=128_1177763195

    it's pretty impressive, but needs to be polished before it can be given to the grunts.

  14. JP

    Big Homing Target?

    Couldn't certain missles be designed with a highly reflective surface, and then use the laser itself to home in onto the truck?

    Just a countermeasure thought...

  15. Grey Williams

    Mirror finish still wouldn't help

    I know a gent over on another board who works with the defense dept. A similar subject came up in a discussion there awhile back and he related a story about it. Their dept was coming in under budget for the year. Now, as is typical with the government, if you don't spend all of the money they give you then you can count on not getting that amount in next year's budget. So they had to burn off some of it quickly. So one thing they did for testing was to order a mirror. Not just any mirror, but one of the absolute best that money can buy. It reflected like 99.9 someodd percent of light back. No mirror is perfect, of course, but this one was far better than most. Anyways, they aimed a high energy laser at this mirror and within a very short time (a few seconds at most, but I believe it was less than a second) the laser had destroyed the mirror and impacted the target behind it. Even though only a few hundredths of a percent of the light was absorbed, that was enough to drastically heat the material causing it to be ruined and quickly start absorbing ever more light until it was destroyed.

    The same principle applies to the shells. Even if they were mirror finished, they would still absorb enough energy to destroy the finish and then they would be on the same footing as any other shell.

  16. Tom Silver badge

    Multilayer defence

    Perhaps lots of optical coatings would provide some defence to your attack.

    Will we now get stealth shells. If they cant detect them they cant hit them - and at least they'd be small enough to avoid being detected by shortwave radar like stealth bombers.

    There really is no such thing as progress in war. Lots more money for companies tho!

  17. Ru

    Phalanx

    Using projectile systems results in an awful lot of spent rounds falling to earth, in a potentially bad way for anyone underneath.

    Also, antiship missiles tend to be quite large things in comparison to mortar or artillery rounds.

  18. Gilbert Wham

    Well...

    "US wants trucks mounted with frikkin' laser beams"

    Don't we all?

  19. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser

    A joint US-Israeli technology demonstrator has been in operation for a couple of years now and have successfully intercepted Katyusha targets. This sounds like an incremental refinement and I think it has a good chance of actually working. Katyushas are no ICBMs - they are just flying steel pipes with HE charge in the tip, not much changed since the WWII. If it kills Katyushas, chances are it can kill shells and mortar rounds.

    Clearly, a laser is much more convenient weapon than a Phalanx or a Goalkeeper as it does not need expendable complex pre-manufactured ammunition, only an energy supply and, perhaps, the consumable reagents (if it's a chemical laser). It's much easier to calculate firing solutions for laser beams travelling at the speed of light in direct line than it is for ballistic projectiles, affected by everything from the Earth's gravity to wind, rain, drag and gyrospcopic forces, and it can be done from the same radar data that is used for Phalanx etc.

  20. lansalot

    ah come on...

    This is America we're talking about - they're over there to win hearts and minds, not to start trouble. So Fox tells me...

    You don't really think they're building this thing to shoot missiles out of the air do you? I suspect it's actually a mobile laser-eye surgery unit - free optical corrections for all ! The reason they're saying it's a defence weapon is they don't want to appear to have gone all soft.

    Actually, if it was one of these weapons though, what they really need to kit it out with is two trackballs, then travel back in time to the early 80s and find the reigning Missile Command champion, bring him back through the tunnel and let him loose. Job done. Probably cheaper and more accurate than some new-fangled "computer" I'll bet...

  21. iain

    light goes in a straight line

    kinda limits the range .... guess the taliban had good reason for stocking up on mirror's..

  22. Mark Roome

    Missing the ... point?

    The question on my mind is this .. what if they miss? So the alleged bomb is flying in front of the moon or any one of the hundreds of satelites we have in orbit around the earth, not to mention a fair number of civilian planes up in the sky. Surely the potential to hit one of these is pretty high, and what would the consequences of that be?

  23. Pete

    nice idea, but too slow

    I wonder what the recharge time wil be on one of these things?

    Say you need IMJ of energy to "kill" an incoming shell and your laser is 1%

    efficient, then to generate and store your energy in say 10 seconds would

    need a 10MW generator in the van - well within the bounds of possibility.

    However that means you can only kill 1 shell, or mortar round every 10

    seconds. You may be able to store enough charge for a few shots, but in the

    long term, you're limited by the generating capacity of the vehicle.

    Now play the numbers gave and pitch a $1000 mortar against a $50M laser

    and very quickly the numbers come out against you.

  24. Jarrah Mckenzie

    Maybe

    Given it may be slow but it just works down to a numbers game. If one Laser System can save X amount of soldiers in a given amount of time they will be saving a large amount of money in the long run, no death payouts, no injury compensation and not to mention not losing a well trained grunt that probably cost hundreds of thousands to train up from high school. We all know that the numbers of things that haven't happened, such as the death of soldiers, can be fudged "This Laser has saved 100 lives this week", so if this gets of the drawing board it will always look good on paper. True if the baddies have any idea what the system is all it will take is a good distracting barrage and a well placed RPG at the system at the same time...

  25. James

    Eye damage inevitable

    The weapon would be a class 4 laser, capable of causing eye injury even from a reflection from a diffusing, non-shiny surface.

    http://ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/laser_classification.html

  26. Register Reader

    An artists rendition of what this weapon could look like..

    http://www.hiptechblog.com/wp-images/optimusprime_01.jpg

    To aid maneuverability, the truck will be able to modify its configuration to achieve bipedal motion.

  27. Marvin the Martian

    @missing the point

    If you randomly shoot, what is the chance of hitting something? Pretty near zero.

    Try for yourself: go to the roof, throw a pebble into your garden, and see if you hit an ant. It's possibly, but unlikely.

    Now the essence of the sky is that it's pretty much empty space. Put your camera on a tripod and pointing randomly skyward, choose self-timer, and then count how many of the 4--10million pixels are made up of birds or plane or whatever living: that's an approximation of the chance you have. A very rough one, as your beam is a straight line but your pixel represents an arc (one pixel nearly is a square mm or so, one far away is many square meters). And no points for waiting until there's a flock of birds, to then push the button!

  28. Joseph

    Only 7m?

    What the heck? Just read that we're going to spend $7 Billion for some new presidential choppers. An A380 is costing around $270 Million. But... development of such a laser system is going for only $7-$20 Million? Can't we expect these kinds of budgets for other projects? Sounds to me like this is going to be farmed out to some local college kids with lasers and an old pickup truck.

  29. Malachy

    ..AND AL QAEDA BUY TRUCK MOUNTED PRISMS

    lol, what about chaff? surely by having a large amount of mettalic fragments in the area over/near a target would both disupt the laser but also its tracking radar? chaff ($100) - laser (a hell of a lot more). just a thought.

  30. Hal Finn

    Eye Danger

    "Unless they chose a wavelength that the eye is opaque to then lots of blinded people from even a tiny fraction of the laser energy being scattered back is the not-so great alternative."

    Don't be daft. The mortar round absorbs the vast majority of the laser energy. That's why it BLOWS UP when they shoot it. It is conceivable that a small amount of energy might reflect off some shiny part of the mortar round for the fraction of a picosecond before it does... except that it's a frickin' MORTAR ROUND, not a disco ball. They're generally painted non-reflective olive drab so, y'know, they match the rest of the Army's stuff?

    Are you people not capable of simple reason?

  31. mario

    @Vladimir

    > Clearly, a laser is much more convenient weapon than a Phalanx or a Goalkeeper as it does not need expendable

    > complex pre-manufactured ammunition, only an energy supply and, perhaps, the consumable reagents

    > (if it's a chemical laser).

    I guess most folk here underestimates the energy requirements of such a toy dramatically.

    Lasers have at best a meagre energy conversion rate of 10%.

    Therefore, they need a lot of energy and also overheat quickly.

    Furthermore, current battle field lasers like THEL are chemical lasers and thus cannot fire sustained without reloading.

    And expensive fuel they need plenty: The last number I remember is ~$3000 / shot what makes a phalanx round

    look like a bargain in comparison...

    Also not really nice is that the currently used consumables are flammable, toxic and corrosive and you need a

    couple of gallons per shot.

    There are efforts to switch to solid state lasers, which can be powered electrically, but again you're quickly

    running into power problems:

    Beam divergence requires the power output to scale with the square of the effective range.

    All these Laser toys don't make sense below 10kW output power even at short range. To blast a rocket at 5 miles

    distance you're looking at 100kW output power and more. To generate these you need electrical generators in

    the 1-2MW range.

    Bottom line:

    So the plan is that a 30mill$ laser system with an associated 1MW generator running continously is protecting a

    meagre 5 mile perimeter against a Katyusha which you can bang together for less than 100$/shot or a 30$ mortar shell ?!?!

    I always wonder how Boing / Northop Grumman / etc get these brilliant ideas through congress...

  32. Mark Gannon

    Atari

    What's wrong with you guys, this is Missile Command...but for real. Fantastic. Even cooler than computers & mobile 'phones for this seventies kid!

  33. mario

    @Vladimir

    > Clearly, a laser is much more convenient weapon than a Phalanx or a Goalkeeper as it does not need expendable

    > complex pre-manufactured ammunition, only an energy supply and, perhaps, the consumable reagents

    > (if it's a chemical laser).

    I guess most folk here underestimates the energy requirements of such a toy dramatically.

    Lasers have at best a meagre energy conversion rate of 10%.

    Therefore, they need a lot of energy and also overheat quickly.

    Furthermore, current battle field lasers like THEL are chemical lasers and thus cannot fire sustained without reloading.

    And expensive fuel they need plenty: The last number I remember is ~$3000 / shot what makes a phalanx round

    look like a bargain in comparison...

    Also not really nice is that the currently used consumables are flammable, toxic and corrosive and you need a

    couple of gallons per shot.

    There are efforts to switch to solid state lasers, which can be powered electrically, but again you're quickly

    running into power problems:

    Beam divergence requires the power output to scale with the square of the effective range.

    All these Laser toys don't make sense below 10kW output power even at short range. To blast a rocket at 5 miles

    distance you're looking at 100kW output power and more. To generate these you need electrical generators in

    the 1-2MW range.

    Bottom line:

    So the plan is that a 30mill$ laser system with an associated 1MW generator running continously is protecting a

    meagre 5 mile perimeter against a Katyusha which you can bang together for less than 100$/shot or a 30$ mortar shell ?!?!

    I always wonder how Boing / Northop Grumman / etc get these brilliant ideas through congress...

  34. Jeckle

    Western Casualties implying...?

    > A significant proportion of Western casualties in this kind of fighting are caused by mortar or rocket attacks on otherwise-secure bases in .... ....Northern Ireland.

    Bwahahaha.. now there's a subtle dig if ever I heard one.

    ...attacks from the dreaded Irish Republican chapter of Al Quaeda (IRAQ) perhaps?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Mario

    Quote: I always wonder how Boing / Northop Grumman / etc get these brilliant ideas through congress...

    Congress? What makes you think they were even consulted? This is just some asshole in the military trying to run his budget out, as another poster already mentioned. Congress won't be involved until we've already bought a hundred of them, and General No-Calculus needs another billion or so, for "Freedom."

  36. Brian Tilley

    Title

    Nothing quite so disgusting as an amerikan gushing over a new way to kill human beings.

  37. Thaddeus Aid

    Will be goof for...

    ...when the invading lizards get here to take us over.

  38. Neal Scroggs

    Ned Ludd Lives

    The sarcasm, the jejune neo-luddite sniggering and appalling ignorance displayed in many of the comments posted here is discouraging and predictable. The spirit that accepts technical challenges and wins through with brilliance and audacity is evidently dead in the UK and withering in America. Many of the criticisms offered are so technically boneheaded one wonders why anyone would dare expose his ignorance to the world at large so casually.

    Let us imagine it’s 1940 and the challenge is an vastly complex encryption system used to direct u-boats to their prey in the North Atlantic. The well-informed and mature readers of The Register offer their sage advice: “Don’t even try, you hopeless sods, ENIGMA is unbreakable! Every transmission has billions of solutions and even if you could print them all out, a task that would consume most of the paper in Britain, it would take man-centuries to read them all. And even if you manage by some miracle manage to break the current code system, the Germans can very easily and cheaply complicate the cipher by many orders of magnitude.”

    Bullets and bombs are ancient technology. The future will be dominated by directed energy weapons. The situation reminds me of 15th century archers when they heard of another new-fangled contraption.

    “Here, Ned, did ya know those bleedin’ Venetians have traded their crossbows for an iron tube what shoots metal balls with fire and smoke!”

    “Don’t worry none, Bert. Them harquebuses aren’t any kind of threat to us yeomen. We’re invincible. We can shoot two hundred paces as fast as we can draw. But the gunner, he shoots barely fifty and damned slowly. By the time he reloads me granny could saunter up and cut out his liver, pretty as you please.”

    “I reckon you’re right there, Ned. We can be thankful none of our tax money’s spent on any of this black powder foolishness. “

    RPG: 200 m/sec

    Mortar: 240 m/sec

    Artillery: 1600 m/sec

    Laser: 299792458 m/sec

    ‘nuff said.

  39. Naiirita

    re: Brian Tilley

    this is an anti-artillary laser, how many ppl do you think it is going to kill?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mirrors are how they aim the laser!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Folks,

    Relative to the discussions on "reflective armour", and it's effectiveness with lasers; the answer is in the latest El Reg article about "Flying laser platforms".

    WAY back in the 1980's, I took CAD classes at a manufacturing facility in Buffalo with defense contracts. My teacher, an older Brit with a wry sense of humor decided to show us some drawings of various projects they were or had already worked on. Lo and behold, I saw a cool drawing marked "injector ring" which turned out to be the method in which Iodine gas was injected into the lasing chamber of what was to become the "Star Wars" anti-ballistic missle system. The mirror assembly I saw later, a spinning first surface mirror, polished beyond anything previously known and cooled with cyrogenic gas. Spinning the mirror spreads the laser energy over a wider surface area and allows the liquid nitrogen to cool the miror platter more effectively. The "flying laser platform" aim's the laser by changing the reflective angle of the mirror. These "chemical lasers" do not usually have a constant beam and instead it consumes the lasing gas (Iodine, other Halides) in one instantaneous pulse of energy. The energy spectrum is almost all infrared with a nice smattering of xrays and some microwave. Wouldn't want to be the pilot for sure!

    Anyway, the system I saw is most assuredly the original "Star Wars" system which was designed from the beginning to be in geostationary orbit and delivered there by NASA's Space Shuttle. This system was all designed, built and tested before it ever became public and the only reason they let anyone know was to help bankrupt the Soviet Union.

    Hey, let's keep throwing MORE money at something we already know works. That's the DOD/NSA way!

  41. Malachy

    re: Ned Ludd Lives

    Regarding the Enigma code breaking.

    I dont think anyone on a tech site would even pretend that any type of encryption is unbreakable, and would probably have better ideas than brute force attacks.

    This isnt WW2, this is a time where America has to come up with new tech because they are being slapped about by people with tubes that shoot little bombs that decided they wouldnt use the latest gear but old gear and old tactics.

    You seem to be calling people that have doubts about the technical aspects of the project neo luddites, however there are some posts that have made very interesting, very technical points. Also you have provided no counter-claims/information. In fact the only point you have made is the speeds of various munitions, completly ignoring the complexities of tracking and hitting the objects. Nuff said indeed

  42. Smokey Joe

    Chaff.. sort of...

    So then, why not launch a sustained volley of the artillery round of choice but only duds at first while the lasers gets tired of going through repeat charging cycles? Whatever... I don't see this being effective for too long because any determined enemy will change it's tactics. Can it spot suicide bombers, IEDs or car bombs? Now that WOULD be a marvel of technology.

  43. Naiirita

    re chaff sort of

    i think this is just for the first few shells. we arent talking about sustained bombardments, from what i have read, these attacks are fade away attacks, they pop up fire some mortors and fade back before fire can be returned.

  44. Neal Scroggs

    @ Malachy

    On the contrary. This site is has more than its share of technically backward types who use sarcastic remarks that wouldn't impress a 9 year old to disguise their lack of imagination. Yes, there are many thoughtful and technically interesting posts here, but they're on my side of the question. To the rest I didn't reply in detail because none of the criticisms seemed worth the effort.

    The "complexities" of hitting an artillery shell, mortar round or rocket are SOLVED and have been for centuries, at least since Newton anyway. The fall of anything in a ballistic path is predictable, that's how artillery is aimed. Of course the flight path is complicated by winds, differential densities, the Earth's rotation and several other variables, but these are known and manageable. The problem has always been the time in flight of the interceptor. A laser reduces that element of the equation to a negligible factor, especially against something that moves as slow as a mortar bomb. The weapon we're discussing isn't new, it's tested and it works. If all the so-called savy techies on this sited used their brains instead of their spleens they'd find this on the web:

    http://www.defense-update.com/directory/THEL.htm

    Interesting technical points you say? How about this one: "Light goes in a straight line" therefore limited range. Well, no. Light is bent by the atmosphere (refraction), reflected by objects and warped into curving paths by gravity. A straight line is a mental construct and is not an element of the natural world. But that's not germane to the issue. Any kind of defensive weapon needs only enough range to engage threats to the perimeter of the area to be defended. The enemy is presumably shooting AT you, therefore the range is closing all the time.

    Here's another: "Disco balls." If the enemy wants to launch kitschy design elements rather than lethal explosives at American soldiers, that will achieve the laser weapon's purpose, however indirectly.

    An how about this plan via Smokey Joe: Shoot lots of dud rounds, smoke and chaff to exhaust the laser before you attack with the real shells. The problem has always been an enemy who fires one, two or three shots in quick succession then flees to attack another day. I say let the enemy adopt this countermeasure, we should encourage it. Any Al Qaeda gunner who stays in one spot long enough to fire sufficient decoy rounds will be throughly dead from conventional counter-battery fire before he gets to the real weapons. (To Joe: Chaff is not effective against the kind of radar used to track incoming artillery. In fact, as a countermeasure it's obsolete)

    Starace has some excellent points. His thinking is solution oriented, but slightly behind the curve.

    And what has Brad McGehee to do with this?

    I could go on, but why bother.

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