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Many lasers become one in Lockheed Martin's 30 kW fiber laser

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February 2, 2014

Lockheed Martin has demonstrated a new 30-kilowatt fiber laser (not pictured) produced by ...

Lockheed Martin has demonstrated a new 30-kilowatt fiber laser (not pictured) produced by combining many lasers into a single beam of light

In another step forward for laser weapons that brings to mind the Death Star's superlaser, Lockheed Martin has demonstrated a 30-kilowatt fiber laser produced by combining many lasers into a single beam of light. According to the company, this is the highest power laser yet that was still able to maintain beam quality and electrical efficiency, paving the way for a laser weapon system suitable, if not for a Death Star, for a wide range of air, land and sea military platforms.

The test was the culmination of an internally-funded research and development program based around a process that the company calls Spectrum Beam Combining. Though laser weapons have been successfully tested in the past, Lockheed says that even though such systems could acquire, track, and destroy targets, they lack practicality as a tactical weapon because the inefficient nature of the lasers resulted in them being too large, needing too much power, and being difficult to cool.

Spectrum Beam Combining seeks to overcome these deficiencies by means of fiber laser modules. Fiber lasers are lasers where the active gain medium consists of an optical fiber doped with a rare-earth element, such as erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, or others. The optical fibers are flexible, so the laser can be thousands of meters long for greater gain, yet takes up very little space because it can be coiled like a rope, and the large surface to volume ratio means that it's easy to cool. In addition, fiber laser are very durable and project a high-quality beam.

But the key feature for Lockheed is that fiber lasers are as easy to direct as water through a hose. Spectrum Beam Combining involves taking the laser beams from a number of fiber laser modules – each one generating light at its own, unique frequency – and passing them through a combiner to produce a single, powerful laser beam of "near-perfect" quality that uses fifty percent less electricity than an equivalent solid-state laser.

"Lockheed Martin has opened the aperture for high power, electrically driven laser systems suitable for military applications," said Dr. Ray O. Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin. "Advancements in available laser components, along with the maturity and quality of our innovative beam-combining technology, support our goal of providing lightweight and rugged laser weapon systems for use on military platforms such as aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks."

Source: Lockheed Martin

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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16 Comments

DOUBLED efficiency? That's remarkable!

Joel Detrow
2nd February, 2014 @ 07:59 pm PST

One of these babies mounted on high ground would be the ultimate sniper system; one shot, one hole. You could burn any soft target you could see. Mount it in a big drone, or a B-52 even, and it's a complete game over for the enemy.

RelayerM31
2nd February, 2014 @ 10:15 pm PST

Re: RelayerM31

People die from blunt force trauma when shot, not from blood loss until later unless through vital impact.

30kw burning energy is effective to getting it from a flamethrower.

But since this is a focused beam, the contact area would be small.

THis is because the body is full of water that can absorb a fair amount of energy and has natural insulation. (think about those silly people that walk through hot coals)

So unless you get someone in the face or heart, they would likely end up with a hole about a fist deep, smelling like roast pork, and generally confused (because the instantaneous burn would remove feeling)

But not disabled necessarily, and the adrenalin will likely keep him running for a bit.

The healing process would be a while, and without field triage, a cooked meat plug about a fist in diameter would eventually puss out. So if he survived the fevers he would be good to go in a few months.

The only reason missiles explode when hit by a beam is their fuel.

Nairda
2nd February, 2014 @ 11:05 pm PST

I think that what's more likely is that this will be developed in a military application to permanently blind as many enemy combatants as possible, as quickly as possible. If you can't see, you can't fight. Think back to 'War of the Worlds'.

Martin-tu
3rd February, 2014 @ 02:18 am PST

Nairda,

interesting explanation, but assuming as you said it is a fist sized "instantaneous" hole, would not the transformation of that amount or water predominate material create an explosive effect resulting in a traumatic wound site?

hkmk23
3rd February, 2014 @ 03:38 am PST

@ RelayerM31

If only we could expect there to be fair play in the matter, we could take some solace from the fact that blinding people during combat is a war crime. The problem would seem to be that in the next world war, the losing side will be too busy burying its dead to take any complaints of war crimes to The Hague, not least because killing off the other side's leaders will be a primary goal of a pre-emptive first-strike (look at the CEP of the Trident missile for instance).

Mel Tisdale
3rd February, 2014 @ 09:07 am PST

Nairda,

I'm guessing you've never been burned by super-heated steam or seen someone who has?

I have some experience in this area and based on the amount of energy that will be delivered on target by a >30 kW beam, I don't think it's at all likely to play out the way you described.

Adam Thomas Flynn
3rd February, 2014 @ 11:58 am PST

A fist sized hole in your head would be a problem. If it can burn that fist sized hole in 10ths of seconds than you could cover a opponent with fist sized holes in a second or so.

Also remember on a battle field if you take out one man by killing him that is just one man but if you badly injure an opponent you tie up several people on the battlefield to care for him and many people behind the lines to care for him. Blow several fist sized holes in many opponents and you overload the enemy's infrastructure to deal with massive numbers of wounded.

Then there is the psychological effect of having the guy next to you suddenly getting his face blown off silently and without any idea of where it came from! Might make you want to keep your head down, you think? You are not a very effective fighter if you have to hide from everything around you.

Also think about hitting the ammo or the fuel of a tank or other vehicle. Not streaking rocket. No screaming artillery shell just instant and unexplainable BOOM here and BOOM there. Pretty soon the other people in those types of fighting vehicles would be climbing out like ants. We have seen this effect with smart weapons. Remember the pictures of hundreds of Iraqis surrendering to one helicopter or even a few guys on foot? They knew they would die a horrible death if they did not. Not many soldiers will keep on fighting under those circumstances.

Imagine that beam coming through a helicopter packed with troops or just through the canopy at the pilot.

When these weapons are finally perfected it will change warfare forever.

vblancer
3rd February, 2014 @ 12:33 pm PST

Weapons. How boring! Let's develop this technology and power a new generation of ultralight spacecraft.

Seth Miesters
3rd February, 2014 @ 04:14 pm PST

Re: Martin-tu

For the countries that signed the convention, blinding combatants through energy weapons is not allowed. You can live without limbs, but blinding a soldier is still taboo. Try making friends again with that country after the war when it has 50,000 blind soldiers to look after

Re: hkmk23

Fist size hole from the effect. Beam is only fractions of an inch wide.

Re: Adam Thomas Flynn

It would be a penetrating burn, like a phosphor burn.

Would be curious on how you think it would play out?

Re: vblancer

You are right. A sustained beam is a game changer for damage, and if its invisible a huge hit on the psychology of the enemy.

Nairda
3rd February, 2014 @ 04:36 pm PST

"When these weapons are finally perfected it will change warfare forever. " -

Unfortunately these words have been spoken since the spear or lance was replaced by the first powerful bow and arrow.

Which were replaced by the flintlock or musket.

Which was replaced by the breech-loaded rifle.

etc., etc.

The Skud
3rd February, 2014 @ 04:51 pm PST

It would be interesting to think the damage you could inflict on this unit or the enemy using a simple mirror ...

Drg
4th February, 2014 @ 12:36 am PST

Drg, no mirror does reflect all wavelengths and if the weapon could adjust its frequency on the fly, it could be effective.

Jorma
4th February, 2014 @ 01:37 am PST

Jorma,

A mirror can be pretty effective the issue would be purity of the glass and you could succeed in deflecting/redirecting quite a bit of the energy. As for changing the frequency on the fly this is far from easy. Not only would you have to modify the laser cavity length but in addition thereto, you would need to adjust all the connectors for this new frequency as the fibre optic cables are all calculated and configured to work within a narrow frequency in fibre lasers, specially when combining two beams as the wavelengths need to sync. Alternatively you can use a shutter to vary the cavity dimension but this would be quite the endeavour in a laser this size.

Drg
4th February, 2014 @ 05:46 pm PST

Kill, mame, destroy.

Are you daleks?

Think about how to use this concept constructively.

grabba
5th February, 2014 @ 11:48 pm PST

35kW is not that much. Using the flamethrower analogy, it would be less than 1 cc of gasoline per second - about what you can put through a syringe with a very fine needle.

EH
13th February, 2014 @ 03:44 am PST
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