Boeing solid-state laser weapon system outshines expectations
Boeing Thin Disk Laser engineers and the laser's main optical bench (Photo: Boeing)
The likelihood of lasers appearing on the battlefield was boosted last week when Boeing announced that its Thin Disk Laser system had achieved unexpected levels of power and efficiency. In a recent demonstration for the US Department of Defense, the laser’s output was 30 percent higher than project requirements and had greater beam quality, a result which paves the way toward a practical tactical laser weapon.
As it says on the tin, the Boeing Thin Disk Laser system uses a thin disc laser. Also known as an active mirror laser, this type of solid state laser was first developed in the 1990s. Instead of rods, as is found in most solid-state lasers, the thin disk laser uses a layer of lasing material with a thickness less than the diameter of the beam it emits. This layer acts as both the gain medium or amplifier of the laser and as the mirror that reflects the beam.
Behind this layer is a thick substrate that acts as a heat sink. This draws the heat generated by the lasing layer away quickly, which greatly increases the laser’s power and efficiency. Boeing’s system incorporates a number of these high-powered industrial lasers to generate a single, high-energy beam.
According to Boeing, the latest version of the the laser has an output of more than 30 kW, which is 30 percent more than the Department of Defense's Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI) requirements, with a similar increase in efficiency.
"These demonstrations prove the military utility of laser systems," says Michael Rinn, Boeing Directed Energy Systems vice president and program director. "In order to be truly viable as a weapons-class system, a laser must achieve high brightness while simultaneously remaining efficient at higher power. Our team has shown that we have the necessary power, the beam quality, and the efficiency to deliver such a system to the battlefield."
About the Author
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
They forgot about the electric and magnetic field at angles pulses though, eh?
The Minions from Despicable Me :)
30 % more efficient then the next best thing is a big deal though. Especially given just how much excess heat a laser generates.
These disk laser units might also prove to be more compact and modular, meaning the cavity of the delivery vehicle may not have to be substantially modified to accommodate the unit. Maybe ideal for mounting in a small fighter aircraft as a future replacement for flak.
So what could a 30kW laser actually do? How much would that need to be increased to be effective?
It would also be interesting to know if wavelength of the lasers can be adjusted to find the best penetration for a target surface.
From the photo it appears that the unit itself would be like the size of a 20 foot shipping container not counting the power source. Certinly does not seem to be mobile !
I seem to remeber a HEL being mounted onto a US Navy ship - wasnt that a 50 kW that could take out UAVs?
I think you could fit it in a vehicle the size of an M-113. even assuming real low efficiency you could probably power it with just another alternate on the fan belt.
I wonder what the cost difference is between this system and the few corner-cube reflector mirrors that will take them down.
@ Alonzo Riley
Mirrors that work against lasers this powerful are expensive and it is almost impossible to put the energy back on the source close enough to damage the laser.
What happens to a target with a mirrored surface??
It makes the target stand out visually and for the most part the mirror promptly fails under the beam because the best mirror know to man absorbs 8% of the energy that hits it and the mirror on the target will not be that good.
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