back to article Northrop: battlefield rayguns to demo this year

US weaponry goliath Northrop Grumman says it has achieved the "first major building block" necessary for manufacture of a 100 kilowatt solid-state laser - that is, a viable battlefield raygun. The company said yesterday that its Joint High-Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) programme has "exceeded all target requirements of …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    For those not familar with military gibberish, "hazmat" means hazardous materials -- sounds so much better! Iraq, in case you're intersted, is a civkillop.

  2. Nomen Publicus

    Weather it works or not?

    Does it work when it's foggy or raining?

  3. Iain Gilbert

    Laser & Mirrors = What?

    Am I being daft here but from what I remember from playing with lasers in Higher (A.S Level) Physics they have a tendency to bounce off any mirrors surface, hence the reason we would have to remove rings/watches etc.

    Wouldn't any "enemy" just be able to reflect the laser beam back at the source?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    They have managed to make a Death Ray...

    So, where's the personal jet pack I was promised by the year 2000?

  5. Andy Enderby
    Thumb Down


    There was a pile of speculation years ago in a book by Rupert Keegan (I think) about hydrogen/flourine lasers. As far as I'm aware, hydrogen flouride byproduct is still something you don't want hanging around, and the idea of hauling around large amounts of hyrdrogen and flourine in a bullet magnet that requires line of sight to target is still unlikely to be popular with vehicle crews.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    re: Weather it works or not?

    why not start with the simple questions does it work in air or maybe pollution? or do you need to install a giant vacuum chamber over the battle field first?

  7. Brian Miller
    Thumb Down

    I forsee

    Very shiny shells and missiles becoming popular. The price of Chromium increasing to plate all of these shnazzy new reflective missiles.

    It would be hilarious if another company came out with mirror missiles that could actually reflect the beam back at the host vehicle. LOL

    Poor technology implementation. They would be better off planting several of those "iron curtain" ultra rapid fire machine gun batteries to these proposed ships/tanks. The only thing that makes this ever so slightly more attractive is not having to lug around loads of ammo. Just fuel (lots of).

  8. g e

    Forget armour, use brasso

    Surely a laser won't cook off anything that's been highly polished?

    I'm off to buy shares in chrome plating....

  9. Simon

    Firing on the move

    I am not, I admit, a(n) [Insert fancy term for LASER specialist here], but wouldn't it be better if the platform fired on the move, to cut down on blooming in the beam path?

    The power shortage could be overcome with a larger or separate powerplant for the LASER .

    @ Nomen Publicus, they could use a blue LASER, as - providing they picked the correct wavelength (using the absorption spectrum of water, or whatever*) - the beam shouldn't be as affected by the moisture in the atmosphere at that end of the spectrum. For absorption, anyway; I'm not too sure about diffraction.

    *like I said, I'm not an expert; I don't even play one on TV.

    PS: The pedant in me took over after I typed this out, hence the capitals...

  10. Edward Fingleton

    @Iain Gilbert

    The trick to beating the mirror effect is that the operating temperature of the laser beam would melt/disintegrate the mirrored surface before a significant portion of beam reflected back at the target.

    Also the logistical problems with attempting to reflect a beam back at source from e.g. a flying missile are far greater than the problems with obtaining a laser capable of destroying said flying missile.

  11. Name


    No it won't work very well when foggy or raining, and it won't work well against shiny chrome plated munitions which would no doubt be a rapidly introduced counter counter measure.

    It is also a single target counter measure so the 'enemy' will simply and cheaply synchronise launching/firing to substantially reduce its effectiveness.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    reflecting back

    Mirrors are impossibly difficult to use to reflect back, now corner reflectors thats a different matter.. cats eye studs anyone?

  13. Greg Williams

    RE: Reflecting back

    Hah... just had an incredibly amusing mental image of a missile with cats half-inched from the MoT stuck all over it.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice shiny targets

    Wouldn't trying to equip anything with the passive ability to reflect a beam back at the shooter also make it magnificently visible to radar?

  15. Dr. Mouse

    RE: an incredibly amusing mental image

    @Greg Williams:

    "an incredibly amusing mental image of a missile with cats ... stuck all over it"


  16. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Surely refraction would work better then reflection?

    I wouldnt bother shining the light back, just hook up a couple of auto fireing heat seeking missles, that can track back along the beam.

    The heat from the beam will remain in the air long enough after the beam is fired for a missle to lock on, and if the tanks cant move fast......

    I think modifiying some of those ALARM and HARM missles should work, they loitter waiting for a RADAR signal, so they can liotter to wait for a linear heat signal and track it to source.

  17. Mark
    Black Helicopters

    When the mount these on the black helicopters...

    I'll have to make sure I polish my tin foil hat up a bit.

    Mine's the one covered in mirrors!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Needs a tank :(

    So still no chance of fitting it to a shark?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Laser Tank?

    Can someone tell me why it is a good idea to compromise the main battle tank's ability to defend itself from ground attack on the off chance it might need to shoot at a missile? Or will this really entail a laser-armed tank with an escort of conventional tanks? Is this just another ploy to build bigger and more elaborate training simulators?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Projectiles with a retroreflective head?

    At the least it'll saturate the hell out of whatever sensor is tracking the inbound...

    This is rayguns for rayguns sake....

  21. Rubber chicken
    Paris Hilton

    Won't they need specially trained sharks to use these?

    Sorry - It had to be said.

    Paris, 'coz she's got bite.

    I'll leave now...

  22. Highlander
    Paris Hilton

    Power problems?

    Um...laser scientists correct me where I go wrong, but....if their laser is a pulse laser, then their power requirement isn't nearly so nasty as it would be for continuous output. They just have to find a way to hold the charge needed to pulse the lasers at their highest performance. Perhaps some ultra-cap technology would be handy here? For example for a half second pulse of a 100 killowatt laser you need those 100kilo watts for only half a second. If it's 20% efficient, then you need half a mega watt. If you can generate the required charge over a minute, you only need to be generating 1% of the energy needed to fire the laser. in other words the continuous generation capacity need only be about 5000 watts. Say you can generate four times this amount at any given moment, Then you can fire your 100 kilowatt pulse several times a second for a relatively modest generating capacity.

    Paris, because she'd say it was hot. So very hot.

  23. Tonsko

    I can have laserz?

    Pew Pew Pew

  24. Chris Walker
    Thumb Up


    This is excellent news. After a hard day on the battlefield, the troops can retire and use their swanky new beamer trucks to light up the post conflict entertainment. Dame Vera got a bit of sack cloth and a cheap stage, the Yanks can now bring Broadway to Insurgencyville.

  25. Graham Bartlett

    @Mirror fans

    For all those people who reckon mirrors would be such a good idea, answer me this. You clean your car so it's all nice and sparkly. Then you drive it through mud or over a nice dusty desert. How long do you think your car will remain nice and sparkly?

    In other words, your mirrored tank will only stay reflective whilst there's a bloke with a squeegy polishing it continuously. Even in the army, I think someone would spot the flaw in this idea.

  26. Highlander

    @ Mike Richards

    How about a fairly annoyed Pike with a laser-pointer glued to it's head?

  27. lglethal Silver badge

    Come on folks...

    Lets face it who doesnt want there own main battle tank sporting frickin' laser beams!

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Naysayers Behave

    Right then all you mirror / shiny reflection / refraction naysayers and all you other naysayers i am going to tell you this once and once only, behave.

    Building this stuff is a) cool, b) funny, c) creates jobs (lets face it they wont spend it on health care) d) is all a bit star trek cap'n e) will give miltary types the right to say, "she can nay do it cap'n i just dont hav the pewer" followed by the retort, "well turn off the air conditioning and put her in park then" f) its a laser gun ffs, i wants one g) ITS A LASER GUN FFS, i wants one!

    Leave the mad military boffins alone, they only need a smack upside their heads when they develop WMD's and we find out about it or someone else steals it.

    Roll on Laser Guns and i vote we call it G13 after the late great Bill Hicks "destroys everything but their fillings which can be recycled for the war effort"

  29. John Griffiths

    missing the point

    Gentlemen (and yes you do all seem to be men) I think, once again, we need to get our minds out of 1917.

    They don't want this sucker firing once or they'd use chemical lasers. Environmental concerns??? Come on they use depleted uranium as ammunition!

    The use of these things will be to be able to continually fire away clearing the skies as long as the power keeps up.

    If the possibility that you might have one of these in the field forces your opponent to undertake countermeasures they otherwise wouldn't have undertaken then it's worthwhile, doubly so if their countermeasures cost more than your weapon.

    I know nothing about this system but don't take for granted that they're even using visible spectrum and as noted above good luck keeping a laser-impairing shiny coat on everything you want to keep safe.

    As for loitering HARM style missiles backtracking the IR trace, well they'd be the first to go wouldn't they?

    Maybe, just maybe, we should consider the possibility the people who are working on this aren't actually stupid?

  30. Andrew Tyler

    The Future

    Since force fields are probably out of the question for quite some time, I can imagine something like this being developed to the point where it takes the form of a disco-ball like object mounted on the top of a tank that can instantly shoot down all incoming projectiles.

    Projecting out further into the future, I can imagine this being refined to a disco-ball like object that soldiers wear on the tops of their helmets. Then, rather than having to learn how to march around in boring lines, they would be instructed in all of Michael Jackson's moves and would dance into battle in Thriller formation shooting laser beams from their heads in all directions.

    Anyways, the battlefield television coverage would be great.

  31. Clive Mitchell
    Black Helicopters

    Yet more mirror talk

    With all the talk on mirrors and other reflective surfaces as an effective / ineffective countermeasure... it will surely have to use some form of optics for beam tracking, slewing the whole installation will not be effective in tracking missiles etc. Is there not some correlation between being able to use optics for aiming and being able to use them as a counter measure!

    Secondly, won't it just be a self designating target?

  32. Geoff Johnson

    I'll wait a while before buying one.

    This is the first generation of these weapons. Give it time and they'll have these in a hand held format.

    Then they just need to figure out how to make the beam end about 3 feet out and behave as if it's solid. Oh and the noises need to be right too.

  33. Pete
    Jobs Horns

    Frikkin Lasers..


    Actually, I want 10 of them to build a 1Mw super laser, and use it to launch payloads into space.

    There's just that pesky problem of frying if you don't get it jusst right...

    Or alternately hook a 1Mw laser up to an orbiting nuclear plant (Solar is for sissies, after all) and shoot oncoming Comets (or Death Stars, or Vogon Constructor Fleets).

    My tax money well spent, that is...

    Steve, because we could use an orbiting deathray to deal with his histrionics.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Do not reflect ALL the energy back. In fact, relectivity generally falls as energy increases.

    Also, reflective surfaces vary based on wavelength, for example highly polished silver has almost zero reflectivity at just over 250nm (UV).

    Aluminium is more uniform, but still has weak wavelengths in some IR bands.

  35. Chris Coles

    Turn the coin over and think a little about the implications

    None of the respondents have so far seen the obverse side of this. At the moment, if someone lets off an explosion, or fires a bullet at you, you have some chance of survival. But this form of weapon will do exactly what the old science fiction movies depict. A quick squirt of energy and you are nothing but a pile of ash on the ground. Again, you live fifty miles from a war zone and are outside when a sudden flash of light, reflected off anything, permanently blinds you and everyone else with you.

    This is not a toy, but a VERY destructive new development that will have a very long range and whose laser beam can move, say, at a distance of ten miles from the source, (while sweeping across the horizon, remember your light beam from a torch), at a speed of several hundred miles per hour. At this moment, we begin to see the beginnings of an era when, if you are going to go to war, the last thing you will want on the battlefield is human beings; they will be too vulnerable. Once that is realised, then war becomes something between automatic robot armies and THEN the whole human race is at a distinct disadvantage.

    The whole basis of the Terminator movie series was that, once we reach that point, we become the ultimate target of these robots.

    Today, now, this year, this century, we have reached that point in time.

    THINK ABOUT THAT? This is not a joke. This is deadly serious.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Point defence

    There's not much fog and rain in a desert so maybe it could protect British armoured vehicles against US air-to-ground weapons...

  37. Chris Cheale


    A couple of thoughts occurred to me...

    If you don't need this thing to fire rapidly then I guess you could use a really big capacitor to store energy generated from the engines, directly or whilst the vehicle is in motion. It's a laser, the shot travels at the speed of light in a straight line (as long as there are no black holes nearby) so it _should_ be pretty accurate and have a good range.

    This wouldn't work against cluster bombs or other multiple munition types of course, but it might be useful for nerfing high payload ballistic missiles (or ICBMs).

    The other this is the role this might take. I could see this more in the role of "tank protector" rather than as a battlefield tank in it's own right - useful for taking out helicopter gunships or other anti-tank aircraft.

    A "mach 2" fighter bomber whizzing along at 680 m/s is hardly a match for the speed of light at nearly 300 million m/s.

  38. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    RE: AC

    "....Can someone tell me why it is a good idea to compromise the main battle tank's ability to defend itself from ground attack on the off chance it might need to shoot at a missile?...."

    In answer, we wouldn't. Those MBTs cost a shedload each, so most armies dedicate money to having a anumber of anti-aircraft tanks to protect the gun MBTs from nasty flyboys. And then, you mix in APCs so you have infantry available to deal with enemy infantry that may sneak up and clobber your MBTs with cheap little anti-tank missiles. It's called having a balanced force. Even MBTs are vulnerable to battlefield missiles like FROG/SCUD, rocket barrages (especially those that use anti-tank cluster munitions), and good ol' heavy artillery (even before you start talking about laser-guided shells being fired from over the horizon and precisely aimed at your expensive MBTs). So, an anti-missile defence is required, a job currently only partially handled by relatively cheap mobile AAA or the same SAMs used for those nasty flyboys - AAA only works at very short range; and SAMs have reload times, engagement times and sheer expense when considered against a barrage of incoming 155mm laser-guided shells. A laser promises to be very cheap per-shot, with quick engagment at longer range, and with the ability to very rapidly deal with multiple incoming missiles. Of course, we can dress it up by saying we can offer it as a civillian defence against rockets such as the Israelis would love to have for Sderot, but the reality is it is to enable our ground forces to deal with enemy ground forces (by which I man kill them as quickly and efficiently as possible) without having to worry about the whole force being taken out by a battery of guns firing from over the horizon.

  39. Ian

    Mirrors are useless

    Even a slight imperfection in a mirror will quickly become exaggerated as it's hit by this kind of energy and the resultant heat, it'll take an absolutely negligible amount of time for the mirror to be useless. You're not going to ever get a perfect mirror so that alone destroys the mirror theory even before the problems of trying to keep a mirror clean when it's flying through the air getting hit by god knows what dirt particles as it does.

    There really is no easy protection vs. lasers like this for your typical artillery shell, rocket and missile. Next gen. tank busting guided missiles will need to fly in a rather unstable manner, stabilising just in time to hit the target to protect against this and even then it's not perfect, but by spinning and moving course somewhat and general erratic flying, minimising the amount of time the laser is focussed on one spot will be the best bet. More realistically the eventual countermeasure will simply be more lasers - can't hit a tank with a guided missile from your gunship because the tank is lasering them out the sky? Just kill the tank with a gunship mounted laser instead.

    For the foreseeable future though having lasers will be a massive advantage, certainly for the likes of Israel who will be able to shoot down Hamas/Hezbollah rockets. This could potentially be good for everyone, because if Hamas can't rocket Israel then Israel has no excuse to bomb Palestinian neighbourhoods opening the door for proper uninterrupted peace talks unless Hamas continue their idiocy and futility by resorting back to suicide bombings and the likes in which case it'll be business as usual.

    Long term it's not so good, the idea of lethal lasers becoming widely available is scary - if they get into public hands they could be a near perfect murder weapon for example - long range, accurate and none of that forensic evidence for the authorities to pick up on. Without a bullet there is no way to tell what weapon the round was fired from, no chance to find DNA on the bullet/casing or anything like that. Even without the weapons ever reaching the general public it's a vicious possibility in the war zone - things and people are going to die quicker and easier than ever before and without the chance to protect yourself, many tactics are going to go out the window, whoever has the best sensors and the most lasers is likely to win the day.

  40. James O'Shea
    Dead Vulture

    mirrors can't stop this

    Mirrors are useful against low-intensity lasers. They are utterly useless against high-intensity lasers. Low-intensity lasers use light energy to cut things; they can be reflected away. High-intensity lasers cause parts of the target to sublime into vapour as soon as the laser pulse hits, and then heats the vapour. This is called an 'explosion'. The whole point of using mirrors (or highly resistant materials, such as ceramics) against low-intensity lasers is to force the laser user to increase the 'dwell time', the amount of time that the beam is on the target. If the target is something which moves quickly (a shell, a missile, an aircraft) holding the laser on target long enough may be difficult to impossible. A high-intensity pulse affects the target by explosive shock, and so needs minimal dwell time unless the target is armoured. And even then there can be negative effects on the target; look up how High Explosive Squash Head rounds work, for example. And if you have a high-intensity laser with a very high pulse rate, you can chop your way through even heavy armour, 'cause something with heavy armour ain't gonna be moving fast.

    High intensity lasers aren't cutters. They're bombs-at-a-distance. The nice thing (if you're on the receiving end) about them is that the laser pulse will release all its energy into the _first_ solid object it encounters; if there's a leaf between you and the laser, that leaf just became an ex-leaf, and the plant it was attached to at the least has chunks missing. However, the _second_ pulse from the laser no longer has anything to block it...

    And, yes, high-intensity lasers can use exactly that technique to burn through (literally!) fog and rain... The lasers effectiveness will be degraded, but if there's enough power, and enough time, it can still get a pulse on target.

    High-intensity lasers are very bad news. And anyone who thinks that mirrors will save him should realise that what he's doing is hanging a really big 'Shoot Me' sign on himself, 'cause those mirrors will be detectable by many, many sensors, not all of which would be attached to laser weapons...

    The dead bird 'cause anyone who depends on a mirror to save him from a high-intensity laser is a dead duck.

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