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Pew-Pew Lasers! Navy Could Outfit Ships with Laser Guns in the Next Few Years

Written by on Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Laser guns are viewed as the ultimate culmination of scientific achievement. Science fiction writers and directors have been dreaming of the day when soldiers, space ships, and fighter jets will be equipped energy blasters and proton rays. Most people only ever think of lasers as existing entirely in the realm of science fiction. Sure, mankind has been able to develop a few useful lasers, but all they’re ever good for is eye surgery, printers, and entertainment-oriented light shows.

Well, just because laser guns typically share the silver screen with wookies and light-speed spaceships, that doesn’t mean that they’re fantasy. In fact, the US military is on the verge of harnessing laser weaponry. I don’t mean this vaguely in the sense of “at some point mankind may use laser weapons” — I mean that in the next decade or so lasers will be a standard feature on ships.

As a matter of fact, a recent report by the Congressional Research Service believes that the Navy could outfit its ships with laser guns in the next couple of years. Yes: honest-to-god laser guns that shoot beams of destructive light at enemy ships and missiles. The Department of Defense already has laser guns that are effective out to a distance of one mile, so they figure that lasers with a 10-mile range aren’t far behind.

There’s only one catch: the Navy isn’t prepared for laser guns. And until the are ready, the US military will go woefully laser-free. You see, the Navy is the only branch of the military that can reasonably expect to deploy the first generation of laser weapons. The wide ocean provides a clear shooting range, and Navy ships are the only diazepam vessels that can reasonably carry around the massive power generators that you need to shoot a laser. It will be years before the Army and the Air Force are able to utilize laser guns as efficiently as the Navy.

Even though the Navy is capable of lugging around massive generators, that doesn’t mean that they’re up to par. The study found that “No existing Navy surface combatant designs have enough electrical power or cooling capacity to support an [solid-state laser] with a power level well above 100 kW.”  A ship’s generator is typically used to power every other feature on the ship, from the engine to the electrical systems. Hooking up a laser gun to the ship will drain its generator dry, so much so that a ship would probably be dead in the water after shooting.

Who ever would have guessed that mankind would master the laser, only to be years behind in battery technology? It’s pretty much the same thing as pouring millions of dollars into a gun, but not spending any money on researching an efficient bullet to put in that gun.

The report recommends that the Navy completely overhaul their ships, or else create a completely new laser-worthy class of warships that have a more powerful generator and a heavy-duty cooling system. All of these nuts and bolts problems bring up a truly depressing question: after dreaming about laser guns for decades, are they really worth it? Do lasers bring much to the table that conventional munitions don’t? After grappling with the physics of lasers for years, it’s a shame to think that the nail in the laser gun’s coffin will be budget restraints.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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