back to article US Navy laser cannon used to set boat aflame

US Navy boffins last week carried out their first test of a raygun mounted on a warship, using the beam to blast a small rigid-inflatable boat and set its engines on fire. The boat-blaster trial comes as part of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) programme run by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR). It took place near …


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  1. Liam Thom

    frickin laser?

    No "frickin laser" today? The Register is getting serious.

  2. hplasm

    USS Paul Foster?

    Ha! I knew UFO was real...

  3. Thomas 4

    You missed the key question

    Is the current technology suitable for cranial implantation in sharks yet?

  4. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    Bring back the battleships!

    We want eight and we won't wait!

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Frist Ps0t?

    Cue lame and unfunny geek jokes about sharks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Down vote.

      For even attempting a "First" post.

      Youtube and kiddy forums are That way>>>

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      First post was by Black Sea navy 30 years ago

      That is the _SECOND_ laser gunboat test.

      The first one was nearly 30 years ago on the Black Sea. It was a chemical laser though :(

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Somali pirates

    "as an alternative to blasting them to scrap with regular guns straight off"

    If they blew them out of the water, perhaps the number of pirates would decrease...

  7. Arnold Lieberman


    No fire with smoke?

  8. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Top secret kinetic energy weapon

    The Royal Navy is beginning trials of a top secret kinetic energy weapon

    It will fire a spherical Ballistic Action Launch Load into the enemy vessel at super-clarkson speed. They should be able to deal with targets this size with a single shot

    The kinetic energy generation system is smaller than the laser and uses a loading and targeting system that is completely immune to computer failures and ECM.

    It is believed that because of the lower electrical power demands even the new class of small warships will be able to carry hundreds of individual launchers .

    To reduce radar cross-section, susceptibility to magnetic mines and reliance on fueling, a series of new natural organic composite hulled warships with a wind power system is envisioned to carry the new weapons.

    1. Danny 14


      apparantly the crew are fed a different diet comprising of high citrus and fermented molasses to increase morale.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Crew grub

        And a bottle of rum as a suitable beverage.

    2. Ammaross Danan

      Last I checked....

      "The kinetic energy generation system is smaller than the laser and uses a loading and targeting system that is completely immune to computer failures and ECM."

      Doesn't the launcher rails destroy themselves after about 3 shots?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        doesn't matter

        "Doesn't the launcher rails destroy themselves after about 3 shots?"

        "It is believed that because of the lower electrical power demands even the new class of small warships will be able to carry hundreds of individual launchers "

        rather than changing the magazine like with conventional weapons, they will just change the gun!

    3. Snapper

      Sleeping arrangements

      And because of the reduced spatial requirement for the new weapons, naval personnel will have the added advantage of not having to share sleeping berths (hot bunking). They will get their own personal space sleeping module made of non-synthetic, washable material that can be stowed away to create a pleasant, more spacious working environment when not in use.

      The launchers are also ideally sized for occasional use as a table base for refreshments and board games and, due to their weight and overall sturdiness, they are also ideal as a support whilst taking a cabin-boy up the arse.

  9. A J Stiles


    It's long past time for a new Geneva Convention to ban weapons like this along with unstaffed aerial vehicles.

    I'd say the ban should extend to "any weapon where you cannot see directly that the enemy combatant you are about to kill or maim is a human being".

    1. Brutus


      Will this apply to all weapon systems, or just those invented recently? Personally, I'd like all distance killing systems banned - from the slingshot up to the ICBM.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Except that this is about *not* killing the targets immediately.

      "The idea is to tickle up pirates, smugglers, suicide boats etc with relatively gentle sizzle-beams as an alternative to blasting them to scrap with regular guns straight off."

    3. SkippyBing


      Then anyone who decided not to play by the rules would be in for an easy win. For starters you've just tried to outlaw most forms of aerial attack that don't put the aircraft in danger, submarines or any weapon that can take out a tank.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Get Terrorist, like Pirates, to buy into this then I might agree.

      Collateral deaths are, sadly, an inevitable consequence of war. We hear more about them these days but they've always happened. Also, the bangs tend to be bigger these days?

      Actually, if the engine of a go-fast boat can be blown up rather than the entire boat and contents itself it may well result in a diminished loss of life?? That being said our Transoceanic allies sometimes have trouble hitting barn doors with banjos.....

      1. Tom 13

        Actually, the bangs tend to be smaller and

        more precisely targeted.

    5. ArmanX

      Man, I sure hope the terrorists get the memo...

      Let's see here... that would mean:

      No armed aircraft, submarines, or ships.

      No long-range weapons (including tanks, mortars, missiles, railguns, lasers, etc.).

      No mines, grenades, or other explosives.

      No anti-vehicle weapons (land, sea, or air).

      No automated defenses.

      In other words, anyone complying with that rule would be completely screwed. There would be no way to protect against someone attacking you with a missile, and no way to retaliate without crossing their (presumably heavily mined) borders, or parachuting inside (while dodging anti-aircraft fire, of course). Meanwhile, since they have ignored the Geneva Convention, they get to bombard you with missiles, drop bombs from above with impunity, and mine, shell, or otherwise damage from afar until they are the only ones left.


      Oh, and one more thing - no RC airplanes. The hobbyists will hate you.

      1. A J Stiles

        You can have RC planes

        As long as they don't have weapons systems fitted.

    6. Cameron Colley

      @A J Stiles

      Are you complaining that people may fire these weapons at robots and kill them? Indeed, it is cruel to our robot slaves that we put them in these situations.

      Or are you referring to the poor pigeons in torpedoes? I don't think they put them in any more, I think they use the aforementioned robots instead.

      If you're complaining about weapons that kill then if it were an ideal world I would agree with you -- but weapons like this are no worse than any other and weapons have always been designed to kill or, more desirably*, maim the enemy whether they want you to or not. In most cases, in fact, many of the combatants may not really want to be there at all. Perhaps we should ban ignorant, warmongering politicians rather than weapons like this? Oops, we did, but it didn't work.

      *From the perspective of someone who wants to win and end a war, rather than an immediate moral perspective of course.

    7. Ammaross Danan

      Likely because....

      "I'd say the ban should extend to "any weapon where you cannot see directly that the enemy combatant you are about to kill or maim is a human being"."

      Likely desired so that he can say a quick "Hail Mary" before he's jibbified?

  10. Z 1

    Is that it?

    Pah. Am thoroughly disappointed. Reminds me of that scene from Hypderdrive. Face our beam of death. Hold still, this will take 10 years to kill you!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      re "Is that it?"

      sorry to be a train-spotter, but I think you meant the Queppu "Doom Ray" which only took "under 3 days" to disintegrate you....

      Stand still will you!!

      [I'll take my Anorak now, and go and marvel at something]

  11. TeeCee Gold badge

    Cease and Desist

    Our Client, Archimedes of Syracuse, wishes us to inform you that he holds relevant IP patents pertaining to; "The use of directed energy weapons to burn enemy ships".

    We would ask that you refrain from further development and / or use of your infringing system until such time as mutually agreeable licensing terms are agreed.

    Yours; Nickitt, Troll and Gouge, IP attorneys at law.

    1. laird cummings
      Black Helicopters


      Government lawyers note that Archimedes of Syracuse's claim to ownership has lapsed due to millenia of failure to defend his claim.

      Further, it has been recently discovered that Archimedes is believed to be dead, and thus unable to depose or call as a witness.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        @laird cummings

        Pah!ty pooper.....

        1. laird cummings

          Of course!

          Isn't that the entire point of government lawyers..?

    2. Chris 244

      Archimedes IP Troll

      Always trying to screw someone.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @TeeCee Regards your official notice from Nickitt, Troll and Gouge, IP attorneys at law

      Pursuant to your notice of 11-April-2011 14:39 GMT, our staff researchers have looked into your claim of prior IP patents. We find no references in the current databases, although we confess it is possible this is likely a result of the sacking of the Library at Alexandria when many legal records were lost. Please provide a notarized copy of the originally issued patent so we may further examine your claim. If a copy of the original notice is not available, please provide a copy of the original submission along with the working model which would have been required at the time the patent was filed,

      Yours truly, Bargle and Snarck, attorneys, DARPA Research Annex, US Navy, USA

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Halfords to the rescue... could put out that fire with a 20 quid fire extinguisher.

    <-- Grenade: probably a more effective way of sinking a rubber dinghy.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Fire extinguishers, however...

      Don't work so well, when they've had a hole burned through them with a laser.

  13. Prive8 Citizen

    Motors? Try meat.

    I somehow doubt these lasers will used to start fires on pirate boats - the dwell time to ignite a flame retardant plastic housing is significant. However, the time required to permanently blind a pirate with a laser like that is probably measured in milliseconds. Blinding aside, a 15kW laser could probaly cause excruciating burns nearly instantly. Now, I ask you, which is the military more likely to target; the motor - or the meat?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      4 Watts hurt

      Years back We had a 4 watt solid state 1550nm laser in the lab that would shut off randomly and we would put our hand in front of the aperature to test for emission. If you kept your hand moving it would feel warm but if you held it still for too long... A burning pain would develop faster than your brain could move your hand out of the way. This laser power and wavelength did not cause tissue damage though, just hurt like hell.

    2. Jean-Luc
      Thumb Down

      I could be wrong but...

      I believe lasers intended to blind are one weapon class that is outlawed. Not sure where/in what agreements, but probably in the same vein as landmines, ABMs and nukes in space. However, I also believe that this agreement has in fact been pretty widely respected (landmines are still deemed OK by the US and China).

      I would say let sleeping dogs lie. The military gain from implementing blinding lasers would not be that great, compared to the human suffering and breakdown of trust ensuing.

      1. Nuffnuff

        Blinding lasers

        All very well not having laser weapons with the primary function being ocular damage.

        Remember cluster and phosphorus bombs? Some sadistic arsehole will always be in a position to pull the trigger and post the results on facebook.

  14. jimbarter


    Mirrors FTW!

  15. CaptSmeg

    history... rinse and repeat

    Hey, wait before you reach for the tax payer provided pork-o-bank cheque book to buy your new fleet. Don't forget to check beneath the waves for those pesky u-boats. Lasers don't work any where nearly as well through water. Your hypersonic slugs won't make it much further either....

    1. laird cummings

      This is why...

      We use submarines to defend high-value 'targets.*' All we need now is to build a fleet of highly capable hunter-killer boats... Oh, wait. there they are, sitting in the harbor, ready to go!

      Never mind...

      *To a submariner, there are two kinds of naval vessels - other submarines, and 'Targets.'

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        other submariners who want to use the toilet?

  16. cosymart

    Matt Black

    Handy dandy that the engine casing was a nice non-reflective matt black. If this ever, and it's a long ever, gets deployed I suspect that white or shiny casings will be very popular.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fashion tips

      The pirate about town of tomorrow who wants to be noticed but not overdone can't fail to impress in this outfit inspired by a Christmas turkey. He's modelling a fashionable ensemble of Bacofoil pants and hoodie charmingly offset by these risque welding goggles. Trust me it'll be 'hello sailor' on the yardarm tonight.

  17. vonBureck
    Black Helicopters

    Did he say "scalable options"?

    Having just watched the excellent linked from Stob's latest outpouring (also excellent), I must say I find this scalability thing most disturbing coming from a military type person talking about weapons systems.

  18. tony trolle

    Black engines I See

    so it would make sense to paint your boat and engines white or light blue......

  19. ITSMeagain

    That'll do

    Mankind has finally managed to set the plastic case of a boat engine on fire using a laser!!!!

    What an achievement!

    I declare us ready for the interplanetary wars now!

    Bring 'em on!

  20. David Hagan


    Lets hope the enemy dont have a mirror...

  21. Gary F

    ACME delivery for Wile E Coyote

    This is the sort of massively disapointing result from something the Coyote tries to do to the Roadrunner.

    I think a sailor with an assault rifle or sniper could inflict more damage in a fraction of the time.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Not how it was shown in Star Wars

    Where's the kaboom?, there was supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom

  23. Mike 68

    British govt announces version for Royal Navy

    Apparently, they've got a REALLY BIG magnifiying glass

  24. raving angry loony


    Oddly enough I'm more impressed with the aiming system that allows the system to keep the laser on target from one ship to another.

    Maybe I'm just easily impressed?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Got to the bottom and you beat me to it.

      +1 for me too. The laser, pah.

      But, wow, what a stable targeting system to counteract the movement of the target AND the laser ship. I would almost be suspicious of the video on that basis alone.

      1. Getter lvl70 Druid

        M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

        Mind you this was back in the early 80's but the M1 has had a stabilizing system for the main gun and coax M240 (7.62 Belgian-made machine gun) that works very very well. Shoots better on the move than stationary in fact. Very cool watching from the loader's position - turret moving and main gun moving up/ down gracefully and from the gunner's position, if you lase something for range, the computer keeps it within a meter or so of the target while you're reloading or moving around. So I can imagine the system they have now on a bigass Navy ship wouldn't have an issue with targeting.

        Thinking about this, either I'm old or I've been way too busy.


        1. laird cummings

          Rather more dynamic motion

          Abrams is, of course, a marvel of accuracy and tracking, but naval engagement is rather more dynamicaly active, and yet that laster never strayed more than a centimeter from aim point despite all the squirelly motion. Not even the vaunted Abrams has that level of tracking (nor, to be honest, do they need it).

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      I'll be impressed...

      ...when the tracking system works accurately against an incoming missile moving at hypersonic speed.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Hypersonic missile

        Actually, that shouldn't be too difficult - a hypersonic missile flying at you will stay visually pretty much at the same spot (relative to horizon). All you need is to compensate for your own ship's motion. With counter-missiles or guns the trouble is the response time of your weapon and slow speed of the projectiles, which requires large deflection and reduces the window within which you are able to take action.

        When your projectile are photons moving at light speed you don't need any deflection and you can start actually hitting the target as soon as you can bring your weapon to bear on it.

  25. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    All of this "Oh they'll just paint it white and use mirrors!" rather misses the point...

    This video was a demonstration of a very low-power laser to test the feasibility of integrating such weapons into the ship's systems. They're talking about deployment of 100kW-plus lasers. At that sort of power, your super-shiny mirror surface would melt in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

  26. Jean-Luc

    Motivation for ship-born lasers, besides de-pirating...

    The Chinese are supposedly creating hypersonic conventional semi-ballistic land-ship missiles (Dong Feng 21D) which are intended to rain down from on high onto high value naval targets - i.e aircraft carriers.

    Phalanx and the like are clearly irrelevant here and even an Aegis/ABM system might be hard pressed to keep a carrier alive.

    A good-enough laser would totally negate that weapon.

  27. a_mu

    deniable responcibility


    if laser was fitted to say a nuke sub,( they have plenty of electricity )

    pop up mast, blast target and disappear,

    if mast was 'stealth' shaped, then good chance of no one knowing your there at night.

    oops, that boat just seems to have caught on fire,

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Might have some uses

    Making the building of large semiconductor laser modules Is *very* attractive for those looking at laser launch systems.

    Might be the start of something good.

  29. Wile E. Veteran
    Black Helicopters

    The US Coast Guard

    routinely disables go-fast boats, semi-inflatables, etc. using an inexpensive .50-cal bullet, a sniper and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter. Far less expensive kit than the lasers and railguns and the sniper (in conjunction with the pilot) can decide whether, when and the optimum location for disabling the target.

    The black helicopter doesn't look much like a Dolphin, but still seems appropriate.

    1. laird cummings

      Low-threat target...

      Drug-smuggling 'go-fast' boats don't generally pack large numbers of armed accupants who can engage your sniper-copter. Oh, and many naval vessels don't carry dedicated snipers and the helos with which to deploy them.

  30. Eddy Ito

    Needs an audio track

    Can the laser at least have some kind of sound effect? It isn't that I don't like the sizzle of steaks on the grill but I'm thinking something with a bit more gusto. You know just to get the attention of the bad guys and show that you aren't playing. Yes, being taken out silently from little more than a dot on the horizon does put the fear of the all powerful into a person but then they might just chalk up a burnt motor to bad luck. On the other hand, there's just something about the sound of an M61 Vulcan or a GAU-8 Avenger that says; "excuse me, just a moment of your time".

    1. Cihatari

      Reworking a classic of literature too?

      There would be surely some scope to rewrite "Treasure Island" for this exciting new age of naval weaponry.

      I was mostly thinking of the character, Blind Pew-pew-pew!

      I'll get me sou'wester....

  31. PT

    Better technology available now

    They won't use puny visible-light lasers for the real thing. The ultimate science fiction Death Ray - the X-Ray Laser - has already been developed. See here:

    1. Anonymous Coward


      I'll see your X-Ray laser and raise you a Maser and a Gamma-Ray laser. Ok they're not real yet but why split hairs.

  32. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @deniable responcibility

    They already have a system for that - it's called sail in and out of Portsmouth submerged at speed. Hit fishing boat, sink it and kill crew.

    Then deny that you had a sub in the area until a passing group of school children show you the pictures of the sub submerging that they drew just before the incident.

    Then when you raise the wreck of the fishing boat and find the hull smashed in and acoustic tiles embedded in the wreckage - classify the whole thing as secret. And prosecute the owners of the fishing boat for their life raft being out of test date.

  33. Robert E A Harvey
    Thumb Down

    Time of crisis

    It's interesting that they can afford to set on fire a perfectly good modern outboard. What happened to the tradition of using hulks for target practice?

  34. Roger Greenwood

    Isn't the real problem with pirates . .

    . finding and identifying the targets?

    Big ocean, small boats. We already have loads of ways to stop/kill them, what we need are more eyeballs in the sea. Robot ships anyone? Besides, most people still prefer a big bang to a small fizzle.

  35. Simon Neill

    @white engines.

    I can't believe several of you just said "Paint yourself white to reflect the blast". Sure I've heard that before somewhere and it turned out to be bs.

  36. ShaggyDoggy


    At last a practical use

  37. David Gale


    Hmmm...moving weapons platform, independently moving target? The stabilisation rig capable of fixing a laser on target for long enough to do damage has got to be the real story here...

  38. Bobster
    Jobs Horns

    'Tickling' them?!

    I would have thought that blasting the crap out of any pirates, smugglers or suicide boats with conventional weaponry would have been far more satisfying?

  39. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Big Ocean, little boat

    And various machine vision systems seem to do quite weell at finding "anything that doesn't look like sea" very quickly - far more effectively than humans can.

    IIRC when one was tested about a decade ago it immediately found a dingy in trouble whilst looking for buoys (A comment made at the time was human head and fishing net buoys are about the same size)

    Perhaps the various navies of the world should consider having this kind of stuff onboard when dealing with wooden boats which don't give much radar reflection. (Why are there so few AWACs planes over pirate alley?)

  40. solaries
    IT Angle

    Death Rays at Sea

    The twenty first century finally arrive the only problem how much power do these weapons need to function and how much will it cost.

  41. QDP

    connection to massive fish die-off Redondo Beach March 9?

    Remember the unexplained die-off of over a million small fish, washed up in Redondo Beach Harbor last month? Anyone care to connect the dots? After all, microwaves are used to heat water to boiling temperature.... a 15 kW beam certainly in the path of a swarm of mackerel or sardines will be deadly.

  42. QDP

    financial feasibility?

    How many MILLIONS of dollars are spent here? Consider the financial crisis we are in right now, how can we afford to do this? If we just used all these funds to give the Pirates credit cards( purchases for American Goods only), - not only would we have a lot more friends, a lot less priracy, but also a whole slew of new buyers supporting the US economy and our products. Soon enough, they'll be wallowing in credit balances they can't afford to maintain either....

    Btw, Lasers don't work well in high humidity, as in rain or fog, so we just fire at aggressors on sunny days....

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