Health & Medical

The Navy’s Next Laser Weapon Is Basically a Real-Life Ray Gun

ray gun

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  • The U.S. Navy simply signed a contract for a brand new moveable laser weapon system.
  • Known as C-UAS HELWS, the service will use the weapon to focus on drones.
  • Thanks to new expertise, lasers are getting smaller, however the elusive, handheld laser blaster is not actuality—but.

    The U.S. Office of Naval Research just lately ordered a “compact, moveable” laser weapon system, in line with a Department of Defense contract discover filed in August. In different phrases, it is mainly funding a real-life ray gun. The Navy will use the weapon, often known as the Counter-Unmanned Air Systems High Energy Laser Weapon System (or C-UAS HELWS for brief), to shoot down drones.

    MZA Associates Corporation, based mostly in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will “design, develop, ship, combine, take a look at, and exhibit” C-UAS HELWS with current industrial elements, in line with the $18.7 million contract, first noticed by Forbes. Development will happen between Albuquerque and Dayton, Ohio, and must be accomplished between 2023 and 2025.

    Although it is nonetheless a great distance from the hand held ray weapons popularized in science fiction, C-UAS HELWS does illustrate a development in laser weapon miniaturization, made doable by government-funded analysis and improvement.

    That’s excellent news, as a result of lasers are very efficient towards drones. A centered beam of sunshine can shortly warmth up a drone’s exterior, inducing structural failure and inflicting it to crash into the bottom. For a fixed-wing drone, that may imply burning one of many wings off. A laser may down a quadcopter-style drone by melting a plastic or metallic arm supporting certainly one of its propellers. A laser may additionally ignite a drone’s liquid gas provide or blind its optical sensors—particularly these utilized by a human controller to information it to a goal.

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    Lasers produce other benefits, too. Because they transfer on the pace of sunshine, lasers do not should be “lead” to their goal. They’re additionally unaffected by gravity, a severe consideration with ballistic projectiles (like bullets or cannon shells) at prolonged distances. They can also’t run out of ammunition, although the generator that powers the lasers can run out of gas, or a battery may run down.

    One of the primary laser weapons to exist was the YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed. Developed within the mid-2000s, the YAL-1 consisted of a Boeing 747 airliner with a laser weapon within the nostril and tanks of chemical substances within the physique. The laser—a ​​chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL)—fell into the megawatt class and was designed to shoot down ballistic missiles mere moments after launch. Unfortunately, the flying laser was plagued with technical and monetary issues throughout improvement and by no means reached operational standing.

    ray gun

    The YAL-1 Airborne Laser was meant to shoot down ballistic missiles shortly after launch. Problems with the laser and the working idea result in its cancellation in 2011.

    U.S. Air Force

    A more moderen (and far smaller) weapon is the AN/SEQ-3 laser weapon system (LaWS). LaWS is the scale of a transport container and has an influence output of 30 kilowatts, making it helpful towards drones. The AN/SEQ-3 was the primary operational American laser weapon, deploying within the Middle East again in 2014 on the afloat staging base USS Ponce.

    Today’s lasers are even smaller, to the purpose the place they’re being fitted on a Stryker combating automobile. The Directed Energy Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense system (DE M-SHORAD) is smaller than the LaWS and 60 p.c extra highly effective.

    ray gun

    The U.S. Army’s new DE M-SHORAD anti-drone laser weapon system.

    U.S. Army

    The Navy’s latest laser guarantees to be even smaller. Forbes speculates that the 10-kilowatt laser could possibly be in the identical measurement and weight class as a .50-caliber machine gun, or about 100 kilos together with ammunition. That could possibly be sufficiently small to mount to a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (the alternative for the Humvee) or the Humvee itself. It may additionally go on Special Operations Craft—riverine, small, armed boats designed to patrol inland and coastal waterways and to move NAVY SEAL groups.

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    While these new laser weapons aren’t as highly effective as a megawatt laser mounted on a 747, they’re extra dependable, extra rugged, and cheaper than ever. We will not possible see a handheld laser blaster anytime quickly, however a breakthrough in vitality storage expertise may push a real ray gun ahead into that remaining frontier. Never say by no means.


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    Writer on Defense and Security points, lives in San Francisco.

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