When people say “ray guns” you often think of sci-fi movies like Star Wars or Star Trek, maybe even those first-person shooters.
Wherever you’ve heard them, the central purpose of the weapon remains the same: it’s a gun that fires either a high-energy beam, heat beams, or lasers. Oh, don’t pretend you didn’t imagine it in your head! We all know how fun it is to think about how much fun you’d have in a futuristic weapons shed with plasma guns lying around. Might even be a scary scenario if the Death Star’s super laser came to life in some form.
But for those who are not in the know, the US military has developed a laser weapon capable of shooting down enemy drones and possibly even very powerful weapons capable of destroying vehicles and aircraft!
US Navy Ray Gun
Yes, you heard right. The US Navy’s version of a ray cannon comes in the form of the Counter-Unmanned Air Systems (or C-UAS HELWS) High Energy Laser Weapon System. What does it do? It will be used to shoot down drones with a high energy beam of light.
This is great news for the Navy, as drone warfare has seen a noticeable increase in its use in recent years. With the use of high-powered lasers to destroy these drones in an instant coupled with a targeting system that could shoot down 20 in seconds, it is very difficult for drone swarms to disable US Navy ships at sea. If the Navy was looking to build fast ships that functioned as floating laser batteries with nuclear reactors to power them and 10-20 laser mounts on board, you have the ability to protect entire carrier battle groups from drone attacks, planes and even hypersonic missiles. .
Because lasers operate at the speed of light, there is virtually no travel time between the laser weapon and the target. This means they can hit targets in nanoseconds and can’t run out of ammo unless they burn out their onboard power source. Although their range is currently short, a fast target acquisition radar
In 2018, MZA Associates Corp in Albuquerque, New Mexico received $18,697,835 to develop the weapon. According to Contractthis should be done between 2023 and 2025.
It was said that this new laser weapon would be about the same size and weight as a .50 caliber machine gun with a 10kW laser, which would hypothetically make it quite portable. Due to its small size, it can be mounted on a military vehicle as small as the Humvee or a patrol boat. The biggest issue is the power required of a laser requiring 60kW to sustain a firing load. The Navy wants to build 100-150 Kw lasers which will be very greedy in electrical energy. The higher the power, the greater the range of the weapon with enough energy in the beam to burn objects in front of it.
That’s not all the Navy has done. Together with Lockheed Martin, they developed the High energy laser with integrated optical glare and monitoring (HELIOS). It is a 60 kW laser that includes systems for surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence missions. The navy can now shoot down missiles with a more powerful weapon without spending a huge wad of money on ammo.
However, this is not the first time the US Navy has developed a laser gun. In 2014, the The AN/SEQ-3 laser weapon system was mounted on the USS Ponce, who was licensed to use the weapon to destroy anything, drones, small boats and even helicopters. The system in the video below is seen optically with a joystick controller. This is fine for targets within visual range moving at relatively slow speeds, but for these weapons to be useful against fast moving incoming missiles and aircraft they must be coupled with a radar fire control system to prioritize targets and quickly engage them from a distance, like the CWIS is able to do.
How it works? It uses a 30,000 watt laser to burn through sensors, motors and other vital components of a vehicle, plane or boat.
The US Air Force is not one to be left behind. They are also developing a new laser weapon, the Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL). However, they said development would take longer, with completion dates stretching as far as 2030. This is due to technical issues with the huge electrical loads needed to power the laser relative to the size of the aircraft. generating this power. The laser lens is also incredibly sensitive to dirt and debris entering it. An insect on the lens would overheat and burn the lens destroying it. There are also issues with high altitude temperature variations on the lens depending on the heat from the laser. Heat hitting the lens when it’s -2o degrees at 30,000 feet would shatter it.
Despite these technical problems, the United States is decades ahead of all counterpart armies in terms of technology. We may be the only country rich enough and advanced enough to even start developing it as a weapon. Our work in this field may be related to the fact that Russia and China are working on the development of hypersonic missiles in the hope that 10 to 20 of them would arrive too fast to be intercepted by a laser sending its pulse at the speed of light, but these missiles have their own challenges to overcome. China recently tested a missile that missed its target by 20 miles, which likely means they haven’t solved the problem of plasma forming around the high-speed missile preventing it from receiving signals from guidance of a ship, aircraft or satellite in space.
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