Laser raygun plane gets $30m 'extended evaluation'
Extended from what?
US arms goliath Boeing is pleased to announce it has been awarded an extra $30m by the US Air Force to keep its Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) raygun aeroplane in operation, following the original "technology demonstration" deal under which it was built. However, the technology appears yet to be demonstrated, as no inflight lasing has taken place.
Silent, but not particularly deadly.
The ATL consists of a 20-tonne weapons system installed in a C-130 medium cargo plane. It shouldn't be confused with Boeing's other, even more enormous laser-cannon aircraft, the jumbo-jet-based ICBM-toasting Airborne Laser (ABL). Boeing announced that the ATL had been completed last year, and said the first ground blasts had been fired in May - promising airborne zappings "this year". Every significant ATL milestone, in fact, has been publicly broadcast so far.
Nonetheless, before revealing any airborne rayings, Boeing now says that it has already been given cash to keep the ATL available so that military customers can try it out for a while and see what it might be good for.
"The Extended User Evaluation will give the warfighter the opportunity to conduct hands-on operation of ATL and determine how this transformational laser-gunship technology can be integrated into the battlefield," said Gary Fitzmire, Boeing blaster-cannon honcho.
The ATL is said to put out a hefty 100-kilowatt beam, and possibly hold that to a four-inch focus at 20km. Its highly dangerous chemical fuel would be exhausted after perhaps 100 blasts of unspecified duration, at which point the sealed six-tonne laser module would need to be drained of toxic, corrosive exhaust products and carefully refuelled - probably a job requiring return to the US.
In most battlefield situations, you much rather have a normal AC-130 gunship firing a broadside of ordinary projectile ammunition. This would offer much more firepower and endurance, and much less logistic hassle.
But some have said that the ATL could make sense for certain highly unusual special-forces applications. It would strike silently and untraceably from afar - it might put a cellphone tower out of action, start a fire or burst a vehicle tyre without anyone realising that US forces were responsible or even present.
It looks as though the end customers - believed to be the Air Force parts of the US Special Operations Command - are excited enough about the ATL to put down some cash before it has even been properly demo'd in the air. Alternatively, inflight fryings have already taken place, but simply haven't been announced for some reason. ®
It might not be the cost of the fuels/reactants themselves, but the cost of disposing of the reactants after they've lased...
One chemical laser design uses Hydrogen & Flourine, in their liquid states, as the lasing chemicals...
The chemical product formed after the process of lasing has taken place, is Hydrogen Flouride gas, better known in its liquid state as Hydroflouric Acid...
How would Paris Hilton cope with the concept of Excited Dimers...?
So, are you trying to say there will be collateral damage? Go ahead, say it!
the ATL beam will breakup long before
Everyone is hoping for success for the the highest of hi tech, physics notwithstanding. First of all, why have the ABL and ATL become about fielding untested coil lasers. We have already done chemical laser testing (HF/DF) with huge success on the ground for over 20 years. Testing planes on the ground with a laser inside reaches the ridiculous.
In the vacuum the beam diameter at the target stated in this article would be a challenge. But the plane must lase through atmosphere (and jitter not felt on the ground platform). It is easy to calculate that the ATL beam will breakup long before reaching the target at a 20 Km range, even if the target is at 100 m off of the ground. The energy from the beam will be spread at least over an area 10 times in diameter of the vacuum spot size. So much for the new marketing of the ABL and ABL lite (ATL), "invisible" indeed! I wouldn't want to be anywhere near the target of this "precision" weapon, especially not in the aircraft.