Laser on ship shoots down drone

NewImageAbove is a US Navy demonstration of a high-energy laser on a moving ship shooting down a drone. The Office of Naval Research just announced that they plan to deploy the system next year. "Our conservative data tells us a shot of directed energy costs under $1," Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said. "Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability." (



  1. Selling a product to destroy your other product? That sounds like a lucrative business to me.

  2. I’d like to see a test on a more substantial drone.  I’m sure their interest is in shooting down the dinky drones that are just used for reconnaissance, but it’s not terribly impressive looking.

      1. drones don’t capture much useful data on a rainy day, so that situation would be a tactical draw anyway.

    1.  I’d like to know what happens if you chrome the drone? Even better (but less satisfying to say), if you coat it in tetrahedral reflectors?

  3. War Nerd article debunking the USN’s love affair with frickin’ lasers.
    Dateline April 2011, but still relevant.

    “All the services lie when they’re pushing programs, but the Navy lies
    most of all. In fact the Navy is the only one of the services that’s
    actually built around a lie, the carrier group.”

    1. The blogger has a lot of bluster, but doesn’t back up a single thing he says. He just spends a lot of time being snarky and trying to appear smart.

      Let me summarize his best argument: “EMP the group with a nuke and then attack it with limpet mines carried on speedboats”. It would be a nice argument except for the fact that you’ve just initiated a nuclear war and things like carrier strike groups are now irrelevant while things like SLBM and ICBM’s with MIRVs laying waste to everything are now what you need to pay attention to (not that it really matters with MAD).

      1. The post in question is about the efficacy of a laser-based weapons system, not about aircraft carriers.  The author makes the “argument” that you call “his best” as a minor side-point about the fact that the US Navy carrier group strategies are…not so good.  You’re failing to rebut any of the salient points the author makes about laser-based weapons. 

        Now, let’s actually introduce part of the author’s argument in context (you really shouldn’t put quotation marks around a paraphrase, bad form):

        I’ve already talked about how a low-tech swarm attack could destroy carriers, and lots of
        bloggers have mentioned the new Chinese ballistic carrier-killer missile, but those are just two ways to kill this bloated, helpless target. Suppose the Chinese get impatient and just detonate a nuke in the high atmosphere over a carrier group? I’m not talking about nuking them, thought that’s a totally plausible scenario, I’m talking about the EMP killing every system on the carrier group.

        Note that you ignore the linked article in which the author discusses a war game in which the carrier group was devastated by an assault by light aircraft and patrol boats.  Note also that what you call “his best” argument the author considers only to be yet another way that a carrier group could be utterly destroyed — which again, is only mentioned in passing to illustrate a particular point in an article written about something else entirely.

        This is neglecting the fact that the strategy in question was explicitly not to nuke the fleet but to hit them with an EMP to completely disable them.  Your rejection of this strategy is based entirely on strategic considerations about the use of nuclear weapons, but that’s not really salient to the tactic being devised.  Nukes aren’t strictly necessary to mount an EMP attack and so it would seem that you’re objecting to this glaring tactical weakness on irrelevant grounds.

        Yes, blustery.  But as far as backing up what he has to say…you haven’t even bothered to address any of the core claims of the article (which are, in my opinion, self-evident enough so as not to need a whole lot of citations).

        1. That’s better than what I was going to say.

          And the EMP effect of a nuke isn’t exactly it’s desired function, much like all that radiation.  The article you linked to gives the basics of making a much more focused non nuclear EMP pulse.  Given enough power input/space a compulsator connected to a grounded shunt coil (like in the e-bomb above) can create a fairly serious EMP pulse.  It’d be like a rail gun that shoots electromagnetic waves.

          (Besides the military has known about EMP issues since the 50’s or so.  I’d imagine critical systems are shielded enough that you’d need a seriously large EMP pulse, something strong enough that it’d literally melt the components.)

          1. (Besides the military has known about EMP issues since the 50’s or so. 
            I’d imagine critical systems are shielded enough that you’d need a
            seriously large EMP pulse, something strong enough that it’d literally
            melt the components.)

            That may well be.  It’s certainly better than any of bzishi’s arguments so far.

        2. You’ve just reiterated his major points without acknowledging his assumptions. Try again when you do that. Here’s a hint on how to start: if China and the US fight a direct war, it will be a nuclear war. Thus, you might want to think of who and where aircraft carriers are actually useful against. The same applies to laser based weapons and what types of weapons they would defend against (it isn’t nukes or Russian or Chinese carrier killer missiles).

          1. 1. Actually, I didn’t reiterate any of his major points, which were all on the subject of lasers.  You ignored them as well.  That was the whole point of my comment.
            2. I don’t think that if China and the US were to fight a direct war that it would be a nuclear war.  You’ll have to actually support that contention with an argument.
            3. This is not the argument you made in the comment above, it is an entirely new argument.  It is also irrelevant to the author’s arguments regarding the efficacy of laser-based weapons systems.

            Mostly my mind was blown by the fact that you said that the author’s “best argument” was a tangent that had little to do with the subject of the article in general, nor with the OP here. If you want to get specific about why laser-based weapon systems are not impractical boondoggles then feel free. You haven’t yet.

            And when you put a paraphrase in quotes as if the author had really said such a thing to the end of suggesting that a minor side-point was “his best argument” it looks like you’re intentionally misrepresenting the author’s arguments.

            Try again yourself.

          2. It was exactly the argument that I made in the first post. Did you miss where I bolded and underlined “nuclear war”?

            As far as small, irregular navies, I guess it is a good thing that aircraft carriers are deepwater ships and the crews aren’t trained to give away their location (and no, I never implied they were designed against irregular navies–that is a strawman and you should be ashamed of yourself for mentioning it. I simply pointed out that they were not useful for nuclear war.). Could an aircraft carrier be ambushed? Sure. But in general combat, these ships will never get anywhere near the carrier. The biggest threat the carrier would face would be from submarines, not speedboats.

            Finally, as far a China, I do have to wonder how you could ever conclude that anything outside of a proxy war could be fought with them against the US. If it is an existential war, do you think that they are suddenly going to forget that they have nuclear weapons? Did you entirely miss the point that nuclear weapons serve as a deterrent?

            Note: this entire irregular navy discussion is a strawman. You are unable to respond to my point that aircraft carriers serve a purpose outside of a nuclear war and can’t be used against a power that possesses nuclear weapons.

    2. Honestly,  I stopped reading after his “big three,” because if those are his “big three” arguments, then none of the rest of them can be particularly interesting.

      1. Air absorbes energy, more so when there’s smoke or haze.

      Well, yes, air absorbes energy, which is why this has a limited range (though they estimate about 10 miles, which is not nothing for something that arrives instantly). But your blogger is wrong about the size of the effects of have and smoke. The longer the wavelength, the less haze and smoke will affect the energy drop. These lasers are in the near IR range, which already significantly increase their penetration as compared with visible light, but physics has you one further. It turns out that there are “sweet” spots in haze, cloud and smoke penetration, due to the specific particulate size, which allow even less of a drop in energy. These include wavelengths of 0.87 µm, 1.045 µm, 1.24 µm, 1.62 µm, 2.13 µm, and 2.2 µm. Using these frequencies causes a laser to penetrate haze as if it’s almost transparent.

      Even ignoring the specific frequencies, though, anyone who had studied a say of optics would have known that longer wavelengths penetrate haze and smoke…

      2. Energy. You need a lot of it.

      Yes. That’s why there are nuclear power plants on ships.

      3. Water in the air.

      Yes. See point one.

        1. well of course, but still you cant even see the laser, its about as exciting as the infrared signal from my tv remote

          i want a laser beam i can see, i want it to look like the beam from rick moranis’s shrink ray

          1. Our lasers are invisible to the human eye and our high-tech stealth planes can be seen as plain as day. Why have the technologies from our science fiction let us down so?

  4. Nothing here mentions what is the range of such a weapon? If the range is anything less than 50 km then it might be difficult to prepare successful defense as these would have to be spread out every 50 km or less.
    In any case it does look useful.

    1. It’s meant to be ship-based; ships *move*.  As for the range, 50km range for something that shows up nearly instantly, opposed to a missile’s travel time, is DAMN useful.  And drones wouldn’t be the only valid target, you know. 

      You also wouldn’t want to ever “spread out” any missile defense, no matter what the type; density of defense is key.  You only spread out if you must cover more terrain for some other reason.

      I wonder if this system is agile enough to nail missiles in flight?  It seems possible; the scale is unclear here, but it doesn’t look all that bulky.  I’m thinking of a laser-based Phalanx turret, essentially.

    1. Refelectives or retroreflectives WOULD defend well vs. this type of weapon, but then you have to engineer in yet another heavy system into your supposedly-cheap drones ^^ .

    2.  that would kinda spoil your stealth mode against traditional ballistic systems though…so gotcha either way.

    3. Since there is no such thing as a perfectly-reflective mirror, the (very thin) surface of the mirror will start to become unstable very quickly, and will fail very rapidly. So you would have just placed a huge radar-beacon on your drone or missile which ended up doing very little.

    1.  I’m no physicist, but if there are a significant amount of water in the atmosphere it would have several effect:
      Firstly the beam will be diffused and might not be able to damage the target as intended.
      Secondly the water molecules will quickly evaporate and make a rather loud bang followed by a big steam cloud.
      Thirdly, there is a good chance some of the beam will reflect and refract all over the place and possibly blind all on-lookers.

      1. Not necessarily so. Remember that this beam is not in the visible spectrum. Something with the wavelength of a microwave, for example, will move through clouds or fog as if they weren’t there.

        1. High power lasers are most commonly in the infra red spectrum and are no where near microwaves. Though they are invisible they will reflect/refract in water and blind any on looker.

  5. I rather enjoyed to youtube comment “your move north korea”. I’m pretty sure missiles can fly a heck of a lot faster and higher than drones.

      1. And, if you were allowed that close to the launch site you could probably scuttle the launch by knocking the missile off course with your pike.

        The ‘getting that close’ part is the real trick.

  6. As has been pointed out weather is a concern here. Other problems are ROF or ablative coatings on your intended target.

    Right now for ship defense Phalanx is kind of the end-all-be-all for anti-missile defense because they are capable of truly insane ROF and spread and there is no albedo defense for hot screaming lead.

    I’d be more impressed if ARPA got back in to investigating particle beam or charged particle beam technology as it would seem to be less threatened by fog or reflective index. 

  7. I bet it wouldn’t be terribly hard to rig a drone with an explosive charge to fake a laser shot on it. 

    Not to sound all conspiracy-theory or anything, but I wouldn’t put it past the military to run a psy-ops campaign to both make our military assets look even more awesome. 

    1. If they were faking it, it would have been less pathetic…

      The cutting-around makes it hard to time exactly; but we are talking ~10 seconds from laser-on-target to ‘target is on fire'(note: not ‘target explodes’ or ‘target vaporized’). That is… tepid, and against a weedy little target drone.

      The video of it gallantly setting an outboard motor on fire is similarly uninspiring(it takes ~20 seconds to set a black plastic housing on fire, and the ‘red team’ aren’t using even the simplest of countermeasures, like a bilge pump spraying cooling water over the attack area…) I suspect that a Vickers gun crew, snatched directly from 1916, could stop a small boat faster…

  8. “We count 30 Rebel drones, Lord Obama, but they’re so small they’re avoiding our turbo lasers!”

  9. Spencer Ackerman has a lot more details at, and is skeptical that the current version would be useful for much more than shooting down small slow-moving targets at short range:

    The Navy won’t say just how many kilowatts of energy the LaWS’ beam is, but it’s probably under the 100 kilowatts generally considered militarily mature. The fact that LaWS can kill a surveillance drone and a fast-attack boat has more to do with the vulnerabilities of those systems than it its own prowess. It cannot stop an anti-ship missile, and its beam, about the circumference of a dime, will do little more than singe a fighter jet. And there remain significant challenges with cooling a shipboard high-energy laser, a necessary safety feature.

      1. The article says “To serve as targets, the MBDA test team used artillery shell models towed in a wide variety of flight paths at an altitude of 1,000 m.” I would imagine the use of “towed” rather than “fired” means they were just being carried around from a plane or helicopter or drone, so perhaps not very fast-moving. And I don’t know why they said “artillery shell models” rather than “artillery shells”, but maybe they used something easier to destroy than an actual artillery shell.

    1. So less “a new laser system that is significantly more effective at shooting down airborne targets” than “a new airborne target that is significantly more vulnerable to laser fire.”

  10. “Alls you need is a big spinning mirror and you could vaporize a human target from space.”

    Popcorn anybody?

    1.  So the pirates seem to have boat mounted lasers… does that mean that the drones are operated by ninjas?

    2.  I hate to say it, but drones with frickin lasers on them?

      (I didn’t hate saying that at all)

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  13. A careful reading of these comments could lead one to conclude that somebody is talking through his or her hat.

    1.  Well, shooting down R/C models with absorbent paint on their large underbelly, anyway. Between the poor CG and no audio, I’m pretty unimpressed with that video.

  14. is this not just a higher-powered ‘green’ laser people point at airplanes ? those things alone pop baloons and can start fires on certain surfaces. Crank those up and would this not be in exact result ?

  15. Well, I like the obvious implications for the rest of us non-military types.

    The best thing about technology is that today’s multi-zillion dollar DARPA project is a backyard maker project in 10-20 years.  Someone’s got to take down those Police surveillance drones.  Not to mention the armed drones that will be looking for (insert bogeymen here).

  16. upon reading the tests…rendered useless by rain, snow, fog, smoke,  dust clouds, and more.  so not quite the end all be all answer, although it is great for lighting cigarets.

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