Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ray Guns are Science Fiction: Energy Weapons? Not So Much

"Laser weapon system shoots down UAV"
R&D Magazine (July 20, 2010)

"Raytheon has just publicly revealed its next-gen directed energy weapon at the Farnborough Air Show in Australia, and has released a video showing its Laser Weapons System (LaWS) -- a six-laser weapon that focuses on a single target -- engaging and then destroying an unmanned aerial vehicle from the deck of a Navy vessel at sea.

" 'These engagements validate the operational viability of the Phalanx-LaWS combination at sea,' said Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems. 'The Raytheon- Navy team demonstrated the systems' capability to detect, track, engage and defeat dynamic targets at tactically significant ranges in a maritime environment.'

"The tests, conducted in May and June, show the LaWS illuminating and then heating the underside of a drone aircraft shortly before it goes up in flames and loses trajectory, plummeting into the ocean below. Guided by Raytheon's Laser Close-in Weapon System (CIWS), a sensor suite that locks onto and guides the energy weapon, LaWS shot down three similar drones during the tests, which mark the first time a solid-state laser has shot down an aircraft on the wing over open seas...."

Solid-state lasers are a sort of good news/bad news matter. Good news, they're smaller and don't require toxic chemicals and are smaller than their chemical cousins; bad news, they don't generally produce as much power.

Still, it looks like Raytheon worked the bugs out of surface-to-air energy weapons. No small feat, considering the knack our atmosphere has for absorbing energy: particularly if there's a lot of water vapor present.

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