Energia-aseet: laser ym.

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Despite a lot of progress in recent years, practical laser weapons that can shoot down planes or missiles are still a ways off. But a new liquid laser may be bringing that day closer.

Much of the effort in recent years has focused on high-power fiber lasers. These lasers usually specially doped coils of optical fibers to amplify a laser beam, and were in originally developed for industrial cutting and welding. Initially, fiber laser were dark horses in the Pentagon's effort to develop electrically powered solid-state laser weapons that began two decades ago. However, by 2013 the Navy was testing a 30-kilowatt fiber laser on a ship. Since then, their ability to deliver high-energy beams of excellent optical quality has earned fiber lasers the leading role in the current field trials of laser weapons in the 50- to 100-kilowatt class. But now aerospace giant Boeing has teamed with General Atomics—a defense contractor also known for research in nuclear fusion—to challenge fiber lasers in achieving the 250-kilowatt threshold that some believe will be essential for future generations of laser weapons. Higher laser powers would be needed for nuclear missile defense.

The challenging technology was developed to control crucial issues with high energy solid-state lasers: size, weight and power, and the problem of dissipating waste heat that could disrupt laser operation and beam quality. General Atomics "had a couple of completely new ideas, including a liquid laser. They were considered completely crazy at the time, but DARPA funded us," said company vice president Mike Perry in a 2016 interview. Liquid lasers are similar to solid-state lasers, but they use a cooling liquid that flows through channels integrated into the solid-state laser material. A crucial trick was ensuring that the cooling liquid has a refractive index exactly the same as that of the solid laser material. A perfect match of the liquid and solid could avoid any refraction or reflection at the boundary between them. Avoiding reflection or refraction in the the cooling liquid also required making the fluid flow smoothly through the channels to prevent turbulence.

The system promised to be both compact and comparatively lightweight, just what DARPA wanted to fit a 150-kW laser into a fighter jet. The goal was a device that weighed only 750 kilograms, or just 5 kg/kW of output. The project that went through multiple development stages of testing that lasted a decade. In 2015, General Atomic delivered the HELLADS, the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, rated as 150-kW class, to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for live fire tests against military targets. A press release issued at the time boasted the laser held "the world's record for the highest laser output power of any electrically powered laser." At the time, General Atomics described it as a modular laser weapon weighing in at four kilograms per kilowatt.

Kuidulla 300 kW asti, siitä eteenpäin sädettimet vaativat nestejäähdytyksen.
 

Kuidulla 300 kW asti, siitä eteenpäin sädettimet vaativat nestejäähdytyksen.

1980-luvulla oltiin jo MW-luokassa kemiallisilla lasereilla. Niiden kehittelystä kuitenkin luovuttiin, koska kemikaalit olivat myrkyllisiä ja laserin lataaminen hidasta. Lisäksi yhden laukauksen hinta oli korkea. Tuloksia kuitenkin saavutettiin. Esim. 1983 NKC-135A lentokone torjui 5 Sidewinderiä ilmassa.
 

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As 2021 approaches, Army testers are in the final stages of plans for a shoot-off event to select a maker for the service's first laser-equipped Stryker vehicles.

Teams from Northrop Grumman and Raytheon will take their Stryker vehicle prototype, equipped with a 50-kilowatt laser, to Fort Sill, Oklahoma this spring to face multiple target scenarios designed the test the limits of each prototype's ability to defeat enemy unmanned aircraft systems, enemy rockets, artillery and mortars and other aerial threats, according to a Dec. 21 Army release.

After the shoot-off, one of the laser-equipped Stryker designs will be manufactured to equip the Army with an initial operating capability of four Stryker Directed Energy-Mobile Short-Range Air Defense (DE-M-SHORAD) systems by fiscal year 2022.
 

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The U.S. Air Force is testing new counter-drone systems that use either direct energy or microwaves to take out unmanned drones that pose a threat to troops and bases overseas.

The service announced this month that it has been testing an upgraded laser system, known as the High Energy Laser Weapon System 2, or H2, through a series of experiments that began last summer at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

H2, made by Raytheon Technologies, is a modified version of the company's High Energy Laser (HEL) weapon, and is capable of defeating dozens of unmanned aerial system targets with increased precision over its predecessor, a news release states.
 

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Western militaries face a number of extremely difficult problems as they attempt to modernize rapidly aging armed forces’ equipment and tactics to confront rising threats. For the United States in particular, the services must field capabilities able to deter and if necessary, defeat China and Russia, while also maintaining an ability to rapidly commit forces to confront rogue state threats such as North Korea and Iran. On top of that, they must continue to service global commitments in a host of lower intensity conflicts and contingency scenarios. In trying to equip and sustain forces able to cover this extremely broad range of mission sets, two problems, in particular, are commonly faced in all of them
The first of these problems is inadequate numbers of advanced munitions to service more than a small portion of the required target sets in many potential conflict scenarios. One aspect of this is adversaries from peer states to insurgent groups fielding capabilities which threaten to overwhelm existing defense systems. These threats range from adapted commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to loitering munitions to cheap and numerous indirect fire capabilities. In most cases, the military has high-end missile-based air defense systems theoretically capable of defeating these threats individually. However, magazine limitations means that the sheer number of relatively cheap hostile systems which can be brought to bear threatens to overwhelm these advanced defense systems by weight of numbers.

The second linked problem is that the US military is consistently on the wrong side of the cost curve. Even where sufficient stocks of advanced munitions can be fielded, using missiles that cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to destroy threats which often cost a few thousand dollars at most is neither efficient, nor potentially sustainable in the face of the rapid increases in the number of small UAS and munitions which can be fielded as already described.

Ideally, what is needed is a capability that can defeat large numbers of massed threats in quick succession, at a cost per shot to allow such a capability to be sustained over time and against a wide range of threat actors in different parts of the world. Directed energy weapons have long been sought as a potential answer to this requirement, but for years have been hampered by high cost, low volume development programs which have sought to tackle some of the hardest problem sets – like ballistic missile defense – as a starting point. However, with the small UAS revolution and the increasing prevalence of loitering munitions in the hands of potential adversaries, several more advanced and much more practical directed energy weapons are now in an advanced stage of testing with the US military.
 

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A key House Democrat wants the Pentagon to reassess a Trump administration decision to halt the Missile Defense Agency’s research into laser interceptors.

That decision to move directed energy-related funds to other defense organizations, Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., argues, could prevent the technology from being used to defend the United States or deployed troops.

“If we move these programs out of [the Missile Defense] Agency, I believe that we will keep them in the labs, the technology, the labs, to test them to death, and they'll never get to the warfighter,” Langevin said Tuesday at a House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing. “At best, it's wasted money. At worst, our systems can't keep up with what adversaries are developing.”
 

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Israel’s Ministry of Defense (IMOD) has recently completed a series of tests in which an airborne, high-power laser weapon system (HPL-WS) prototype intercepted multiple aerial targets in quick succession. Elbit Systems developed the system under the high-power laser program led by the Directorate of Defense R&D (DDR&D) at the IMOD. This game-changing series was conducted in a testing field in the center of Israel, in close cooperation with Israel’s Air Force flight test center, “Yanat.”

An HPL was installed on a light aircraft during the test series and was tested in several scenarios. It successfully intercepted and destroyed all of the targets that were launched throughout the test. Some of the targets were Elbit System’s own Sky-Striker loitering weapons. The targets were intercepted at various ranges and flight altitudes, about 3,000 ft. above sea level. The test series is the first phase in a multi-year program led by the Directorate of Defense R&D and Elbit Systems to develop a laser system against a variety of long-range threats.

While the HPL-WS prototype has demonstrated the first step in the intercept of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the new capability will be able to engage more challenging targets. “We believe in the use of a high-power laser to carry out low-cost airborne interception of rockets and hostile unmanned aircraft, closer to their launching areas and away from population centers. It offers a significant change in Israel’s defense capabilities. Oren Sabag, General Manager of Elbit Systems ISTAR, said.
 

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Ahead of putting experimental directed energy weapons onto its fighter jets, the U.S. Air Force is testing how these systems will operate at high speed and high altitude, by trialing them in wind tunnels. Equipping fighters with directed energy, or DE, weapons, which use high-energy lasers or microwaves to engage threats, is a long-standing Air Force ambition, but one that has suffered from some well-documented delays. The latest wind tunnel work may help address some of the problems encountered so far.

The Air Force has announced that recent DE systems tests have taken place in the four-foot transonic wind tunnel, or 4T, belonging to the Aerodynamics Branch of Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee. By experimenting with a DE system in a wind tunnel of this type, it’s possible to assess how the weapon behaves when it encounters shockwaves left by the aircraft carrying it, as well as other disturbances that might affect the weapon’s energy beam and prevent it from engaging the target properly.
 
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