The US Navy’s first trial with the solid-state LaWS (laser weapon system) from aboard the USS Ponce points towards revolutionizing global warfare. The at-sea demonstration in April this year brought down a test drone and fortified confidence in concentrated laser weapons technology. It has broken out of a Star Wars image and transformed into a reality with practical adaptations underway. The day we see a a laser blasting apart an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is not very far off.
“Our directed energy initiatives, and specifically the solid-state laser, are among our highest priority science and technology programs,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said. “The solid-state laser program is central to our commitment to quickly deliver advanced capabilities to forward-deployed forces.”
The cost factor is also making the top honchos crave laser. Contrary to the $1.4 million Tomahawk cruise missile, the laser might come down as low as $1 a shot, with the complexity of the laser battery close to a commercial welding unit. And that’s all you need to fight off UAVs and small, fast gunboats in swarms.
The mechanisms behind the action takes a hell of a lot of engineering but this is what it finally boils down to:
The direct-energy weapons transmit photons, elementary particles but with definite wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. A target absorbs a laser’s energy and the laser burns through the target, damaging its atomic layers.
Unlike the explosions you see in Hollywood movies, laser burns and that burn hurts badly, more so if on living tissue. If laser safety is not properly followed, using a high-energy laser as a weapon will almost certainly become a challenging, operational issue. And we are talking about dealing with several hundreds of kilowatts of power, even higher.
For example, shooting down ballistic missiles will need the strategic laser weapon to deliver 1MW of power to the target. Since laser faces atmospheric absorption and scattering, it has to fire ten times its landing strength. That could be 100 times as well, depending on how far it is landing. That brings down efficiency; however, with all those advances in beam control, adaptive optics and frequency-tailoring techniques, it seems a global barbecue party could be on the horizon.