Navy One Step Closer to Using Lasers for Ship Defense

The U.S. Navy is one step closer to developing a ship-mounted laser capable of defending against everything from swarms of speedboats to anti-ship missiles.

After more than two decades of research, scientists at Los Alamos National Lab last month demonstrated the technology, known as a Free Electron Laser, needed to generate a one megawatt beam that could one day provide light-speed close-in defense of Navy ships.

From the Virginian-Pilot newspaper:

"Until now, we didn't have the evidence to support our models," Dinh Nguyen, senior project leader for the Free Electron Laser program at the New Mexico lab, said in a news release.
The free-electron laser works by passing a beam of high-energy electrons, generated by an injector, through a series of strong magnetic fields. The result is an intense emission of laser light.
"The FEL is expected to provide future U.S. Naval forces with a near-instantaneous laser ship defense in any maritime environment throughout the world," Quentin Saulter, program manager for the Office of Naval Research said in the release.
The laser's speed will be a benefit to a ship that needs to react to moving or swarming targets. And it provides an effective alternative to using expensive missiles against low-value targets, a release from the Navy said.
The system could even be used as a sensor or for target designation and "disruption."

Still the system's got a long way to go before it hits the fleet. The Navy's moving to test out a 100 kilowatt version of the laser soon and it will be 2018 at the earliest before the Office of Naval Research expects to test out a prototype on a ship.

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