back to article Boeing: Raygun dreadnoughts will rule the oceans by 2019

US aerospace mammoth Boeing has made a bold announcement, saying that it will "transform naval warfare in the next decade" by developing powerful warship raygun turrets able to blast enemy missiles and aircraft out of the sky from afar. The arms globocorp said yesterday that it has been awarded an initial $6.9m contract in a …


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  1. yonorri

    Don't use sharks...

    Surely something like an electric eel would be more appropriate, or perhaps some sort of ray.

    Mine the one with the fishy smell about it.

  2. roger

    Magazine unlimited?

    The magazine of a laser may be unlimited but its rate of fire wont be and neither will the lifespan of its components under heavy load. Rail-gun 'barrels' also have a tendency to burn out.

    When a swarm of 1,000 cheap sea-skimmers come over the horizon at Mach 5 how many can you shoot down? Rate of fire calculations any one?

    How close does the singe nuke-tipped one buried in the swarm have to get?

    Oh, almost forgot. Are these things any good against torpedoes which are pretty good these days? (Spot the sarcasm)

    Surface ships are doomed in a serious exchange of views.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    I, for one, welcome our new genetically-modified mutant shark/electric eel crossbreed in-body megawatt abominations with (presumably) nasty big teeth.

  4. Len Goddard

    Horizon problems

    To hit a sea skimmer at 20 miles the laser would need to be mounted about 250 feet above sea level.

    For a more practically mounted device (say 30 feet above sea level) you have a horizon of less than 7 miles. At Mach 5 that would give you about 1 second to fry the thing.

  5. Max Lange
    Thumb Down

    That's a mighty turret....

    to see and shoot at a sea-skimming missile at 100nm! Or do they use reflector balloons?

  6. Nick Palmer


    "meaning that the whole mighty power of their engines could be used by electrical weapon systems on occasion (at the cost of briefly losing propulsion)."

    Believe I've see this one already - "Excalibur", think it was -

  7. Alex Walsh


    I can see the Chinese spending a few bob on submarines then. How does a laser defend against a torpedo up the rear (admiral)?

  8. blackworx

    pew pew pew!

    pew pew!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    @ Magazine Unlimited >>> Seriously

    Comments about torpedeos agreed, how would a laser armed ship deal with a sub. The surrounding body of water would defeat any laser system, something in the ratio of power of laser to depth sub sits at.

    But here is a thought.

    Mount the laser on a sub, fire through extendable barrel (think snorkle/periscope) whist sub is submerged.

    Only vulnerability is the exposed above water barrel.

    Sub could sit at depth and clear a fleet of ships + any aircover fleet of ships wanted to have.


    "So what do we want to do tonght ?"

    "The same thing we do every night — try to take over the world."

    All I need now is a load of cash and a tropical island with a volcano shaped like a skull !!

  10. TeeCee Gold badge

    Revenue opportunity!

    An umpteen kilowatt FEL laser installation for making tea? Now *that* I'd pay for.

    C'mon Boeing. Give up on the ships and give us the almost-certainly-non-lethal laser teasmaid! (Ideally mounted on a resin replica Shark's head stand.)

  11. Hugh_Pym

    Best invention

    The laser has got to the best invention if the last century. It has so many application and yet still steadfastly refuses to become a useful weapon. you could even argue that laser sights/guidance has made weapons safer.

    woo lasers, I say.

  12. Alex Walsh

    @ Len Goddard

    great minds think alike:

    Mach 5=1,701.45 m / s

    Call it a big boat (weapons mounted 100m above sea level)

    visible horizon is 35,715.70m

    That gives you 21 seconds to target and destroy the 50 cheap missiles chucked at you.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surface laser

    Ah.. how far out can a laser from a ship go anyway? Won't the curvature of the earth stop it hitting sea skimming weapons/aircraft out beyond say 10 miles or so?

  14. Fluffykins

    @ Anonymous Coward, Re: oblig.

    keyboard, please.

    And coffee

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Beat to Quarters

    "Look alive on the gun deck lads, run out those 12 pounders ... ahem ... I mean 12 MegaWatters".

    Alas, the modern equivalent of beat to quarters might disappear due to the speed of the engagement: "Hands to Action Stations, hands to Action Stations. Assume Damage Control State 1, Condition Zulu. Belay the last. Raid splashed."

    It may take a while, but it will be pleasant to see Navy flyboys (and indeed Air Forces generally) taken down a few notches and gunnery back where it belongs.

    Of course, lasers will do nothing for the submarine threat ....

  16. Scary

    reflect it back at them

    Is there a patent out yet for chrome plated missiles?

  17. evilbobthebob

    Light speed weapons

    Seriously, a laser travelling at the speed of light...who'd have though it.

  18. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    largely gratuitous shark attached

    I just wanted to see that again.

    Thank you, the chain main one if you'd be so kind.

  19. Stuart


    Another pointless peice of kit, only useful for fighting the kind of opposition that the US isn't planning on fighting (i.e. people who can actually shoot back).

  20. goggyturk

    I'm disappointed

    No jokes about salty sea dogs and laser beams?

    And this in the week when the producer of the Carry On films was laid to rest?

    Sad, very sad (missus, phowar, ooh)

  21. John Smith Gold badge

    torpedoes a problem and what about aiming?

    When thinking gun turrets most of the actual working bit (the barrel) is outside the turret. FELS work IIRC by wiggling electrons as they fly down the tube. The radiation (It could be Microwave to UV depending on the settings) comes out at *right angles* to the long axis through the sides. A whole different steering problem, more line a bearing detecting radar scanner. The fact it could emit from both sides might help response times, if you can cut off (or defocus) the output from the unneeded side of the tube. Otherwise the obvious tactic is 2 M5 sea skimmers (these puppies are Russian, but I bet they will be premium priced) from the same angle would mean the beam frying one on one side would totally miss the 2nd.

    All of this depends on how short an array is needed to get the power levels. If short (few metres) then response speed (even with a low profile design) should be good enough. Or possibly go with a Phalanx (narrow and tall) form factor. But how to get the depression quickly enough?

    But for cooking the fuel tank of some Somali high jacking boat. Perfect.

    Unless they invest in a few Russian M5 sea skimmers of course. Or some torpedoes.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sod torpedos...

    What about a stealthy sea skimming anti ship missile..? Hard for radar to acquire at the best of times, even harder when you're dealing with clutter.. If you can't see it, how is your laser going to kill it?

  23. Anonymous Coward

    It's almost perfect

    Sounds like a great weapon as long you're not in a very damp environment prone to thick fog... Oh, wait.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: DIVE! DIVE!

    The same chaps that make the skimmers also make this baby:

    Wanna try using anything on that? Laser? Depth charge? Counter torpedoes? Doubt it.

    And as far as the skimmers, even current defences would work if the lock-on is 20 miles out. The real problem with them is that the lock-on is actually only 3-4 miles out _AND_ the damn things do 5g+ evasive maneuvering within the last 2-4 miles. I have some doubts about any laser system being able to maintain a lock on something coming at it with 2M+ velocity and doing evasive maneuvering at 5g+.

    So a laser carrying battlevagon is as dead as the current generation of aircraft carriers and this is not going to change until the wagon is armed with 200 mile+ railguns to make sure that noone can get within launch range.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    and to be capable of exploding liquid-fuelled ICBMs

    As every rocket scientist knows, its even easier to explode solid rocket propelled ICBM's (such as all first-world ICBM's are) as the entire innards of a solid rocket booster is pressurized at about 1000 psi during burn. Hence, as one saw during the Challenger disaster, one only needs to make a small weak spot almost anywhere on the solid rocket booster to induce its failure.

  26. Anonymous Coward


    Metal mirrors suck (and so absorb too much energy) so badly that you can't even use them for university level crap laser optical systems of more that a watt or two without burning the mirror. For laser beams of any power more than a couple of watts or so, you have to use dielectric mirrors. Dielectric mirrors only work at precise wavelength dependent beam angles and if you are off those angles or wavelengths by much, they really suck (and so absorb too much energy & burn up), so you can't even coat an object with "dielectric mirror" as a defense even if you knew the laser wavelength directed at you.

  27. Remy Redert

    RE: Dive! Dive!

    Torpedoes can be dealt with in a variety of ways, ranging from decoys to straight out counter-torpedoes. These still work agains the VA-111, although they're harder to deploy effectively.

    Additionally, evasive maneuvering on the side of the incoming missiles does fuck all against a laser point defense system, the turret shouldn't have problems tracking it at any range irregardless of maneuvers and the laser hits wherever the turret points. It will hit the missile and with megawatt range lasers, it will kill the missile in the blink of an eye. Similarly it should have no issues tagging multiple missiles close together in a matter of moments.

    Ofcourse missile swarms would work, they could indeed overwhelm the laser defenses. A couple of missiles from opposite directions wouldn't work, as a ship mounted with laser defenses would have to have several turrets anyways to cover all directions properly, and with 80 megawatts of engine power, shouldn't have any problems firing them all at the same time.

  28. Luther Blissett

    Anyone for chess?

    Even if you don't play chess, you know as a driver to look not just at the car in front, but also at the car in front of the car in front. One hopes the USN's recruiters appreciate a chess player when they see one. Otherwise...

    Anyone for tennis... Monty Python style?

  29. Tawakalna
    Thumb Up

    Team Rocket?

    haven't I already seen this crazy idea tried on the kids' Pokémon show? I seem to recall that Jessie and James' sub always had something bad happen to it whenever they tried to capture Pikachu.

    So no attacking Japan then.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Nick Palmer

    Actually, I first saw it much earlier than Crusade with the Wave Motion Gun from Space Battleship Yamato:

  31. Xris Middleton

    Multi-layered Defense

    When a functioning Laser weapon systems such as this does make it onto warships it is not going to solely used. It will be incorporated into a multi-layered defense system involving anti missile missles and CIWS. It is just an additonal technology to increase the percentage of suvival.

    Plus it is not going to replace aircraft carriers, only make it even harder to kill them. There are many reasons why aircraft (manned or drone) are more useful than fixed firing assets during in a wartime theatre.

    And 1000 missiles. If someone decides that they can afford and even have the capability to fire 1000 missiles at once they are not going to be firing it at a single ship but at a carrier battle group. So as well as fighters in the sky you have several laser and anti missle armed cruises and destroyers, asw ships and friendly submarines in the surrounding area.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: torpedoes a problem and what about aiming?

    Russian "skimming puppies" already fly in formations and attack in formations. From time to time one of them goes up slightly and does a target check/scan and updates the rest of the pack. At the end of the trajectory they converge on it from multiple directions all of them doing evasive maneuvering at the same time.

    Thanks god the export version does not have all these bells and whistles and operates "solo". It is only the non-exported Granit which does that.

    However, with the chinese and indian electronic expertise it will not be long until Granit is not the only "puppy" on the block to hunt in a wolfpack

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Stuart ~~~ Fighting Those Who Shoot Back

    Stuart ~~~ only useful for fighting the kind of opposition that the US isn't planning on fighting (i.e. people who can actually shoot back)

    These types of weapons encourage nations who are reasonably intelligent with the ability to shoot back, not to engage in warfare.

    I somehow remember Saddam Hussein leading Iraq to shoot at over 1000 American planes in a U.N. declared no-fly-zone, during a cease-fire, before the United States decided to shoot back (fairly aggressively) in a full scale invasion.

    The colonies need to shoot back a little more often.

  34. Martin Silver badge

    Erm have they thought this thing through?

    Chance of hitting an Al Queda stealth bomber = 0

    Chance of hitting own side, allies, blowing up own ship etc due to 'computer error' = 1

  35. robbie
    Paris Hilton

    Not entirely useless

    This will help combat an age-old Naval problem: after many years of obsessive compulsive painting many battleships are top-heavy enough to be in danger of capsizing.

    Bring them into line astern and give them a drive-by squirt from a couple of these new laser ships and they'll be all set for a fresh coat.

    Paris, purely from a heat POV.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Sea Skimmers at Mach 5?

    "When a swarm of 1,000 cheap sea-skimmers come over the horizon at Mach 5 how many can you shoot down? Rate of fire calculations any one?"

    Bouncing over the compression waves induced by the sea chop at Mach 5? Really?

  37. raving angry loony

    Nice scam

    The American military-industrial complex still has trillions to suck out of the American taxpayer before they'll even think about putting anything in production. This technology is a godsend - lots of promise, no expected deliverables, and much more money to be made "experimenting".

  38. Robert E A Harvey


    What they are saying is they still can't make it light enough to go in a plane.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I suppose ...

    ... that this is mostly to do with big, big, ships providing an airborne platform somewhere afar?

    Where there are, for example, surface water, underwater and airborne threats?

    If so then could the technology be applied to land as well?

    Example: incoming rocket/mortar

    Could land borne bases benefit from intercepting rayguns?

    If so, then that might be a radically effective and immediate use of the technology.

    Maybe even an almost fixed base device pointing along and another transverse to access routes just in case a heavy vehicle is approaching at undue haste and without clearance?

    The model seems to apply equally well to land borne and sea borne and I'd guess that greater haste in land borne is far, far, fare more immediate.

  40. fajensen Silver badge

    The Navy - knights in armour!

    The Navy is the 20'th century version of knights in plate amour:

    Lots of comfy, cushioned jobs for the kind of millitary leaders that like to stay waay back from the battlefield and really only effective at showing off against peasants that follow "the rules of war": i.e. stand still in the open and do not shoot back against their betters!!!

    The first real opponent our navy runs into will turn it into a place where tourists are taken for diving excursions.

  41. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Torpdeos, stealth missiles and manouvering tragets

    @ Magazine Unlimited >>> Seriously

    The USN has been looking at anti-torpedo defences for a while. Currently, as well as towed decoys and their own torpedos programmed for the anti-torpedo role, they are looking at active sonar wave weapons powerful enough to actually break up a torpedo. The latter is unlikely to be popular with the whale-huggers. The big problem for a torpedo is range - any sub wanting to take a crack at a US battlegroup will have to get well within range of not only the carrier's airgroup, but also the extensive underwater sensors used by the ships themselves. In any confrontation where the USN is likely to meet such a threat, it is also likely they will use their own hunter-killer subs to sweep ahead of the fleet. The Soviets spent a lot of time during the Cold War testing the NATO anti-sub defences and the USN has a lot of practical experience in countering subs. An air-launched torpedo also means getting your launch aircraft within the fighter screen and past the same laser air-defence turrets, so again unlikely.

    RE: Sod torpedos...

    Nice idea, but stealthy missiles are only as stealthy as the launch vehicle, and all current missiles leave a very obvious IR trail that can even be spotted head-on, let alone from above. Any launch vehicle has to first get to a launch point and detect the target - the USN battlegroups have lots of fighters to make sure that doesn't happen, and lots of EW and ECM kit to make the task all the harder.

    Re: DIVE! DIVE!

    Whilst mach2 and 5g+ manouvering make the targetting harder, they don't make it anywhere near impossible. The old Phalanx or Goalkeeper kit will cope quite happilly with targets doing such manouveres, and they're both '80s designs. The mach2 and 5g+ manouvering was designed to avoid systems like Sea Wolf, which go for a head-on collision using a prediction of the attacking missile's flightpath. With lasers, since the lead is minimal, manouvering just gives the laser more time to engage you. A much better approach would just be a swarm attack using the fastest possible missiles.

    The swarm attack would probably defeat a ship with one or two turrets, but the 80 MW engines of the likes on the Zumwalt class imply a future ship could have dozens of turrets. If Boeing can get a through-deck turret of around the size of the existing 4.5in/5in types used on the current fleet then we might see the return of all-gun destroyers with four or more turrets, and larger ships along the lines of the old WW2 Dido class air-def cruisers with five-plus turrets. Not so sure about anything bigger - even the USN may bulk at the expense of building something of the Iowa class size, but if they did it could mount a dozen-plus such turrets and still have room for many missile launchers. Of course, Iowa and Wisconsin have been mothballed, not fully-decomissioned, so the USN could actually make the step up to laser dreadnought much faster than such "sensible" nations as Britain, where the RN had all their capital ships broken up long ago by civil servant "experts" that said we'd never need such large ships again.....

  42. Mark Stevens

    Re re Sod Torpedoes

    Sure, as of right now there are no really stealthy anti ship missiles (probably the Norwegian NSM is closest) since the use of ray guns was previously discounted :-)

    However I suspect it would probably be easier to design and build a long range stealthy IR shielded (a la Apache/F117) turbofan cruise missile with a last 50 km smart dash capability than the proposed laser systems.

    However your points about defence in depth are noted, and the fact that unlike our Navy, the Yanks are well aware of the importance of search radars being at 30,000 ft rather than 200 ft :-)


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