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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The end of air supremacy

ESR called this one in "Battlefield Lasers", which appeared in Riding the Red Horse.
If history teaches us anything about military technology, it's that cheap systems scale up faster than expensive ones do. It is already easy to imagine an up-gunned version of Rodriguez's laser pointer slaved to a radar with a couple of bog-standard servomotors. Off-the-shelf parts, incremental cost less than $3K each, with most of it the development budget going for the targeting firmware. Cost per shot, effectively free.

Call it the PlaneZapper. You could sit it on a roof, power it off wall current, and it would blind every pilot it can see. Including drone pilots; even if there's a peak-clipping filter between a drone's sensors and its pilot's screen, the effect will be like whiteout. Altitude and cloudy skies might save pilots from the early versions of the PlaneZapper, but for anything that has to fly low and slow this could already be a death knell. Close air support and medevac are obvious vulnerabilities.
Apparently someone at Boeing was reading Raymond:
Wednesday morning, the company showed off its Compact Laser Weapon System for media in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s a much smaller, significantly more portable version of the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) Boeing demonstrated last year. This setup looks like an overgrown camera, swiveling around on a tripod.

In the demo, Boeing used the laser to burn holes in a stationary, composite UAV shell, to show how quickly it can compromise an aircraft. Two seconds at full power and the target was aflame. Other than numerous safety warnings to ensure no one was blinded by the two-kilowatt infrared laser, there was no fanfare. No explosions, no visible beam. It’s more like burning ants with a really, really expensive magnifying glass than obliterating Alderaan.

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes.
This means that the battle for air supremacy is going to have to move higher, which is to say, space.

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123 Comments:

Anonymous cent August 27, 2015 3:27 PM  

automation becoming ubiquitous means that many things are becoming possible even for the common people. cheap CPU, stepper/servo motor and such makes this very easy. Current limitation is of course the detection/guidance, but even that may not be hard to solve for the determined. Interesting time we live in. for sure

Blogger Giraffe August 27, 2015 3:29 PM  

Obvious weakness is the radiating radar required to target the planes. But that's probably solvable, by targeting the anti-radar missles.

Blogger Josh August 27, 2015 3:31 PM  

Space Lasers!

In Space!

Anonymous Slowpoke August 27, 2015 3:34 PM  

You don't need not want radar, you can get off the shelf optical trackers.

Anonymous cheddarman August 27, 2015 3:37 PM  

i wonder how soon non state combatants will be able to duplicate this technology. It could be very useful in countering armored vehicles like tanks, armored personnel carriers, MRAPS and armored humvees. Make them button up, blind their sensors and then attack with satchel charges or cheap remotely piloted vehicles...not that i am the first person to ever think of this...

Anonymous A Paradigm Is More Than Twenty Cents August 27, 2015 3:38 PM  

Hmm. RPV's were supposed to be the wave of the future. This negates that at low altitudes right now, higher altitudes not too long from now.

I used to know some Air Defense Artillerymen, Patriot missile operators. Their motto was simple, "If it flies, it dies". This makes that much more possible.

Blogger Alexander August 27, 2015 3:43 PM  

No explosions, no visible beam. It’s more like burning ants with a really, really expensive magnifying glass than obliterating Alderaan.

That sucks that there were no explosions, cause then it could have been described as being like dynamite with a laser beam.

Anonymous Aurelian August 27, 2015 3:51 PM  

Alpha-beta filter and a square law detector for tracking and detection. 50 year old tech, but works fine for helos/slow planes. Not much programming required, nor much theoretical knowledge.

Anonymous Steve August 27, 2015 3:55 PM  

Alexander.

Anonymous Gx August 27, 2015 3:56 PM  

Laser shows to justify some of that sweet DoD money are always a thing.

Some questions:

Des it work on rain? With dust on the way? You know, actual warfare conditions?

Anonymous Aurelian August 27, 2015 4:04 PM  

The thing about any sensing or communications technology is that jamming is usually a trivial exercise compared to sensing. When you are reliant on a single type of sensor, you have a fragile system. In warfare, anti fragility is rewarded.

Anonymous Dave August 27, 2015 4:06 PM  

"The laser is controlled with a standard Xbox 360 controller."

RapeRape did tell us: "Eric S. Raymond is a well-known figure is the gaming world."

Anonymous A Paradigm Is More Than Twenty Cents August 27, 2015 4:12 PM  


Des it work on rain? With dust on the way? You know, actual warfare conditions?


Probably degrades in both environments to some degree. But those are impediments, issues for engineers to work with, not show stoppers. For example, water vapor has a known wavelength, the Navy has worked around it for years.

@5 Chedderman:

Thin skinned things that fly are easier to put holes in than thicker skinned things on the ground. However there are a lot of thin skinned things on the ground, too. Never mind the MRAP, what about the depot that supports it, how many holes can the fuel tanks, water tanks, living quarters, etc. take?

Office architecture may have to change; windows are now a big liability.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 27, 2015 4:15 PM  

Space, the only frontier to make the F35 project look cheap.

Hasn't the Pentagram's rocket scientists noted that robbing the country deaf, dumb and blind is as sure a guarantee of destruction as is an omnipotent adversary? Silly me.

Anyone who thinks the "defense department" can "defend" must work from a completely different set of "axioms of monopoly and central planning" than do I. Every monopoly eventually becomes completely parasitic. No amount of cheerleading at the service academies is going to alter this axiom, so here we are, living in the largest village (the USA as a whole) the Pentagram has ever committed to destroying in the effort to save it.

Anonymous Agent J August 27, 2015 4:20 PM  

I saw an IR laser powered by a couple AA batteries pop a balloon during a demo at work once. My first thought was, "Dang, glad that's a balloon and not my eyeballs." Got our attention double quick.

Anonymous Oliver Cromwell August 27, 2015 4:20 PM  

Air defence has a low effectiveness and time of flight is only one source of failure. Lasers might revolutionise things but an evolutionary improvement in defence (concurrent with evolutionary improvements in offence) is more likely.

Blogger Student in Blue August 27, 2015 4:24 PM  

@Alexander
That sucks that there were no explosions, cause then it could have been described as being like dynamite with a laser beam.

Alexander, you're a killer Queen jokester. I love those kinds of jokes - they're guaranteed to blow my mind.

Blogger roundeye August 27, 2015 4:30 PM  

So much for cruise missles.

Blogger DBSFF August 27, 2015 4:37 PM  

How powerful would a ground-based laser have to be to take out an object in orbit, as compared to versions that could take out a plane?

Blogger Daniel August 27, 2015 4:39 PM  

Dammit. You just effortlessly swiped a post I was going to do for CH. No worries. This is a very good insight, and a credit to RtRH

Blogger jay c August 27, 2015 4:43 PM  

I expect to see swarms of low profile, low cost drones equipped with radiators and heat shields.

Blogger pyrrhus August 27, 2015 4:46 PM  

Wait till this baby is doing 100 kilowatts from mobile platforms--bye bye Navy...

Anonymous Donn #0114 August 27, 2015 4:46 PM  

Boeing has been working on ground based and air based laser systems of various kinds for at least twenty plus years. I'm not surprised they've announced a breakthrough.

Blogger Dexter August 27, 2015 4:46 PM  

This project was in the pipeline long before RTRH appeared.

You could say it validates RTRH... but not caused by reading it.

("Thanks Captain Obvious!")

Anonymous Orville August 27, 2015 4:49 PM  

a bit demoralizing to use it on ground troops to melt their faces, conditions permitting. Not much different that the truck mounted low level microwave crowd control beamers they already have.

Blogger IM2L844 August 27, 2015 4:50 PM  

There, you go, Sarah. Moonbase!

Anonymous Forrest Bishop VFM #0167 August 27, 2015 4:50 PM  

This look more like hype than real. There are earlier examples of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems (e.g. Patriot) being tested on "cooperative" targets.
The video shows a small quadcopter being tracked. The quadcopter is "cooperating"- it moves slowly, does not yaw, does not take any sort of evasive maneuvers.
That makes it easy for the optical recog to get a lock, and for the servos to stay with in their slew and lash parameters.
The laser needs all that help because it has to dwell on a specific, low-reflectivity surface for quite some time. 2 seconds was mentioned in the article.

If this laser weapon were actually deployed, the countermeasures are simple, cheap, and obvious.

Blogger Dexter August 27, 2015 4:51 PM  

How powerful would a ground-based laser have to be to take out an object in orbit, as compared to versions that could take out a plane?

Depends what you mean by "take out".

Not too hard to blind sensors. It has been done already.

Anonymous BigGaySteve August 27, 2015 4:53 PM  

Racist San Fran tries to look less like Mexico for the SouperBowl
http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/How-to-solve-San-Francisco-s-homeless-pooping-6465355.php

Gay Jewish politician mad that facebook deletes peener pics but not facts about crimimmigrants.
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-27/germany-tells-facebook-get-tougher-on-racist-anti-refugee-posts

Anonymous Anonymous August 27, 2015 4:54 PM  

Uh huh. All these "bold-based" comments" are from a different poster, with a different nom Daguerre.

I believe that...don't you, Ilk?

Anonymous BGS August 27, 2015 5:03 PM  

it's that cheap systems scale up faster than expensive ones do.

This reminds me of people saying more memory storage created by someone in japan is proof of Japanese being creative, instead of just taping a dozen laser pointers together.

Anonymous Forrest Bishop VFM #0167 August 27, 2015 5:06 PM  

@28. Dexter

Not too hard to blind sensors. It has been done already.

It has been done on sensors that were not designed to fend off a laser hit. Rome and Constantinople's walls weren't designed for cannon, either.

Blogger DBSFF August 27, 2015 5:33 PM  

@28, @31

I mean physically compromise.

Anonymous joe doakes August 27, 2015 5:33 PM  

Would terrorists need radiating radar? Why not use ADS-B Out, the new air traffic control system that every aircraft is mandated to install by 2020 to pinpoint all other air traffic? Costs a couple of thousand dollars, off-the-shelf tech, no restriction on acquisition or license to operate.

Anonymous FrankNorman August 27, 2015 5:34 PM  

There are some obvious counters to laser attack - it's effectiveness could be reduced by making the underside of the airplane reflective and shiny, for example.

Or go the opposite route and add an ablative defensive layer.

Anonymous WaterBoy August 27, 2015 5:52 PM  

jay c @21: "I expect to see swarms of low profile, low cost drones equipped with radiators and heat shields."

Radar-damping stealth technology...or mirrored surfaces to deflect the laser light...just some of the ways around this.

And then ways to counter those defenses...it's a vicious (and tax money-intensive) process.

Anonymous Sean Robert Meaney August 27, 2015 5:58 PM  

Okay, but say your band of terrorists/rebel scum decide to reinvent the barrage Baloon and run up truck inner tubes filled with hydrogen on a couple miles of fishing line laced with fish hooks to snag billion dollar fighter jets and take out passenger jets.

Anonymous cent August 27, 2015 6:00 PM  

atmosphere does pretty good job of attenuating energy, if it is long distance. why they canned the airborne laser weapon system. (YAL-1) it had to be pretty close for it to be effective because watt/weight was too high. low power may be good for small unarmed objects in low distances, but you will need real power for bigger/better protected vehicle at a distance.

Anonymous freddie_mac August 27, 2015 6:03 PM  

"Cheap systems scale up faster" sent me over to Wikipedia to read an overview of the AK47. A couple things that caught my attention were how quickly the Russians got it into general circulation (1948 vs. 1960s for the M16) and the AKs were designed to be disposable.

With all the emphasis on high tech, let's hope the designers/military remember that low tech weapons can be just as devastating, provided the opposition knows how to use them strategically. IIRC, there's a short story about this concept (Heinlein?), but I can't remember the name right now ...

Blogger SirHamster (#201) August 27, 2015 6:07 PM  

IIRC, there's a short story about this concept (Heinlein?), but I can't remember the name right now ...

I think you're referring to this one.

Blogger Cail Corishev August 27, 2015 6:08 PM  

That sucks that there were no explosions, cause then it could have been described as being like dynamite with a laser beam.

Like lasing a stick of dynamite?

Blogger DeadHeadDiver August 27, 2015 6:11 PM  

Not to put down ESR - but Jerry Pournelle predicted that man carried weapons would make the battlefield uninhabitable by aircraft decades ago in his Falkenberg's Legion Series. He was thinking upgraded Stingers, but the effect is the same.

Anonymous Steve August 27, 2015 6:25 PM  

Tom Kratman's Carrera series has the good guys making use of pilot-dazzling lasers.

Maybe the obvious countermeasure would be a fully VR pilot's helmet, with enough external-mounted cameras and software filtering to make it very difficult to blind the plane.

Blogger Curtis August 27, 2015 6:26 PM  

How fast can they seek multiple targets, acquire multiple targets, and shoot down multiple targets, before being taken out itself?

Anonymous Steve August 27, 2015 6:29 PM  

Sir Hamster - I read that story in THERE WILL BE WAR VOL II. It's one of Clarke's best IMO, I love the dry humour.

At this stage, Grand Admiral Taxaris expressed his disapproval of Norden by committing suicide

OpenID jakoye August 27, 2015 6:35 PM  

@freddie_mac
Great point about the AK-47, something the Russians definitely did right that we could learn from. Although the M4 is a good weapon, I still think a 7.62mm bullet is a better man-killer than a 5.56mm and worth the extra weight.

You point out what I'm afraid of when we get into a fight with a near-foe (such as China). Our weapons may be better, but are we going to do a Germans-Russians thing where the Russians quantity overcame the Germans quality? Already, I would say that China has us outgunned in the South China Sea and our advantage in supercarriers and F-25's is not going to be able to keep up with their inferior, but more numerous, platforms.

OpenID jakoye August 27, 2015 6:37 PM  

@Steve
I think you're right. Perhaps you could have a very high altitude drone providing the god's view from above, which is then rendered into a virtual environment for the pilot to navigate by. No more would they be looking at the actual terrain, but instead a computer-generated model of it (which itself is based on the real-time video from the drone).

Anonymous freddie_mac August 27, 2015 6:39 PM  

@39 Sir Hamster --- thanks, I was even thinking of that title, but was convinced it was incorrect.

@44 Steve --- thanks for pointing out a collection with the story. The damned SP/RP/ilk are maxing out my credit cards ...

Anonymous TimP August 27, 2015 6:43 PM  

@43, Curtis

> How fast can they seek multiple targets, acquire multiple targets, and shoot down multiple targets, before being taken out itself?

Oddly enough that doesn't actually matter that much. ESR was talking around $3k each (or the price of two M4s), even adding an extra 0 for military reliability and wastage improvements, we're still talking cheap enough that every Hummer can carry one, and you can have a bunch of extras mounted on tripods. How many jets, or even cheap drones can you throw at the same problem?

Of course I'm not convinced by ESR's argument that lasers are going to make combat jets obsolete (against well equipped enemies), but that's because I'm not convinced that SAMs didn't already make them obsolete, and we just haven't notice because we haven't seen anything like peer fights with the latest SAMs versus the latest jets. (Even now fighter pilots say that enemy SAMs are way more dangerous than enemy jets, but don't make the logical leap that this means that friendly SAMs are likely more effective than friendly jets)

Blogger Azimus August 27, 2015 6:54 PM  

22.pyrrhus August 27, 2015 4:46 PM
Wait till this baby is doing 100 kilowatts from mobile platforms--bye bye Navy...


Is it possible the Navy could rig up some kind of CIWS for this and "intercept" the laser beam with a 3" fire hose stream of saltwater, similar to the gatling guns that drop cruise missiles at close range? I mean, it's not like they wouldn't have plenty of water...

Blogger Thucydides August 27, 2015 7:10 PM  

Offense and defense are always a dance. I can still recall as a very young person the proclamations that "The Tank is Dead!" after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It is 2015, and now a scramble for new tanks is beginning in response to the introduction of the T-14 Armata tank by the Russians...

Laser weapons will be devastating to current generations of weapons and systems, so countermeasures will be developed and tested to get around laser weapons, from spoofing or evading the detection and aiming systems, hardening targets against common laser wavelengths, "swarming" targets with masses of cheap penetrators to overwhelm the laser and so on.

The laser weapons in reply will become more agile, more powerful and develop more elaborate suites of sensors to find their targets. Offboard fighting mirrors will also become part of the laser suite, since the beam generator will be the most expensive and vulnerable part of the system, and the one target that *must* be disabled or destroyed.

So I suspect that military operations in the 2050's will look very strange from a tactical perspective, but will still use fighting vehicles on the air, ground and at sea.

Blogger Emmanuel Mateo-Morales August 27, 2015 7:23 PM  

Rheinmetall! The most powerful of the metals!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUGpCUkFwYI

Blogger Emmanuel Mateo-Morales August 27, 2015 7:33 PM  

Boeing's official youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ijp3-zjTIp0

Anonymous A. Nonymous August 27, 2015 7:42 PM  

What are the implications for infantry combat?

Blogger Jim August 27, 2015 7:47 PM  

@40. Was waiting for the first "Real Genius" reference.

Blogger buwaya August 27, 2015 8:24 PM  

"the introduction of the T-14 Armata tank by the Russians..."
The Russians can't afford to build them though

Blogger buwaya August 27, 2015 8:27 PM  

"How many jets, or even cheap drones can you throw at the same problem?"

You can throw a lot of small diameter bombs from 30+ miles out, and no laser will stop those. They cant reach the aircraft even in line of sight because of atmosphere effects.

Blogger njartist August 27, 2015 8:33 PM  

#10
Up and coming laser technology.

OpenID jakoye August 27, 2015 8:47 PM  

@buwaya
Yeah, with oil at $40 a barrel, that's going to put somewhat of a lid on Putin's adventurism.

Blogger Thucydides August 27, 2015 9:08 PM  

@55 Maybe not, but desperate people do desperate things. On our side, the mere debut of the T-14 has Germany now seriously looking at a successor to the Leopard 2 MBT, and there has certainly been buzz about new tank designs in other Western nations. How many make it from paper or PowerPoint to real hardware is another thing, of course.

OpenID artraccoon August 27, 2015 9:12 PM  

It just means that SEAD missions and hardware are going to get changed. Perhaps the birth of the "Flying Tank" that will make the Hind look like tissue paper. Of course to give the laser a real chance will require more than a system that's 'suitcase portable" and tripod mounted. It's going to need to be mounted on a vehicle that can provide protection, mobility, a weapon stable mounting( because hand firing it will be worthless), and be able to carry all the sensors it will need to find and hit the target. In other words, it becomes just another air defense vehicle like the Shilka or Gepard, just with a bit more "Buck Rodgers". Considering the U.S. Army's record of ADA vehicles development and current weapon systems development times, expect it to take 25 years, cost billions, and not get adopted. If the lasers can deliver quicker punches, and hit more small targets rapidly( like inbound artillery shells and small missiles) then there would be something to get excited about, something really revolutionary on the battlefield.

Anonymous FAILBOAT August 27, 2015 9:22 PM  

Butcher Bird by Dean Ing is underrated.

Blogger Floyd Looney August 27, 2015 9:33 PM  

reflective aircraft skin

Blogger Floyd Looney August 27, 2015 9:37 PM  

@56 Yep, stand-off weapons. The JDAM-ER (beginning production this year I think) can glide more than 64 kilometers it is said. This is another one of those add-on's that turn dumb bombs into smart bombs.

Blogger Floyd Looney August 27, 2015 9:40 PM  

That was a 2012 article I commented on, lol.

http://aviationweek.com/defense/boeing-build-gliding-stand-version-jdam-0

Blogger Anthony August 27, 2015 9:45 PM  

So how big would this thing be if human-aimed? Lots of targets won't need two seconds of coverage to be blinded or damaged.

Blogger M Cephas August 27, 2015 10:00 PM  

Invisible planes with energy shields can potentially become a reality

Blogger John Morris August 27, 2015 10:01 PM  

Forget the battlefield for a minute. Imagine this evil invention made entirely from off the shelf stuff.

Take a good HD trackable webcam. Something with good zoom and fairly heavy. Now mount the biggest green laser pointer you can put on it without impairing tracking accuracy. Carefully align it so it points dead on center. Add a cellphone for Internet capability. Should be able to build a dozen for 50-100K, less once you really get rolling.

Now quietly put half around a large airport on rooftops and teh other half at nearby airports. Get a scanner and program in all of the targeted airports. Fire up your phone and start targeting inbound planes to the prime target from three different points. Odds are figure out where you are firing from and they take out a couple. Bring in a spare when that happens. Before you run out they will be desperate with planes circling far out and running low on fuel. They divert to nearby airports. And get hit again.

Win, lose or draw you just dominated the news cycle for a week, took a severe chunk out of air travel for months and generally achieved the goal of terrorism, to terrify. And good luck catching the perps, which just adds to the fear factor.

There are so many effective tactics like that, that aren't being used that it makes one thankful for the quality of enemies we have.

Anonymous And so.... August 27, 2015 10:03 PM  

Wait till this baby is doing 100 kilowatts from mobile platforms--bye bye Navy...

How did you get a line of sight on the ship again?

And why aren't they shooting you back with their own lasers?

Blogger Tiny Tim August 27, 2015 10:05 PM  

Jakoye: "You point out what I'm afraid of when we get into a fight with a near-foe (such as China). Our weapons may be better, but are we going to do a Germans-Russians thing where the Russians quantity overcame the Germans quality? Already, I would say that China has us outgunned in the South China Sea and our advantage in supercarriers and F-25's is not going to be able to keep up with their inferior, but more numerous, platforms."

Wrong.

What is an F-25?

The Japanese would probably beat China.

OpenID jakoye August 27, 2015 10:29 PM  

@Tiny Tim
Geez, yeah. Sorry about that. F-22, I meant. :)

I do think the balance of power has already shifted in the South China Sea. With a shrinking navy, we haven't even been able to meet our goal of deploying 65 ships in the Pacific in order to support the "pivot to Asia" strategy. I see many parallels in the current situation to America's doubting of Japan's military capabilities before World War 2.

I don't believe Japan would be able to stop China if it decided to make a serious play for the Senkaku Islands. Japan has only recently begun to react to the threat and start to build up its military. But a major Achilles heel for the Japanese is the fact that the public at large is largely pacifistic. Perhaps that would change if China was the aggressor, but it could also lead to a feeble Japanese response depending on the leader in charge at the time.

I'm not alone in my sentiment on thist:

http://thediplomat.com/2012/10/thinking-about-the-unthinkable-war-in-the-senkakus/

Anonymous kjj August 27, 2015 10:41 PM  

@49

Some ships already have incredible water pumping ability. A friend described the Aegis cruiser he served on as a floating hurricane when they turned it on. Multi-inch rotating spray heads all over the deck, superstructure and hull. Apparently it was designed to confuse incoming radar and had some nice side effects in the fire control department. I expect it would work pretty well on incoming lasers too.

Blogger Harold August 27, 2015 10:47 PM  

@45 "but are we going to do a Germans-Russians thing where the Russians quantity overcame the Germans quality?"

The Russians didn't actually have a lot of quantity- by themselves. "Through the Murmansk Run, the United States supplied the Soviet Union with 15,000 aircraft, 7,000 tanks, 350,000 tons of explosives, and 15,000,000 pairs of boots. American boots made a difference on the Eastern Front, especially during the harsh winters." Quote from http://www.usmm.org/ww2.html It's hard to tell which of those items made the most difference, but 15 million pairs of boots supplied by the U.S. to Russia certainly helped out.

Warfare is going to change. That's for sure. We're going to have to bring back literal decimation, and if they don't learn, annihilation of an enemy populace to bring about actual victory. Or remotely bomb them back into the stone age. Every dam, every bridge, every power station, and anything with a non-animal power source that moves- destroy it. Every few years, ask them if they're ready for peace.

Anonymous zen0 the Ephemeral August 27, 2015 10:52 PM  

@68. Tiny Tim

>The Japanese would probably beat China.

China has nukes.
Japan does not have nukes.

Just sayin'

Blogger kudzu bob August 27, 2015 10:54 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Tom K. August 27, 2015 11:01 PM  

Sorry, guys. Tom Clancy called this in "Debt of Honor" in 1994.

CIA agents Clark and Chavez use such a device from the top a their hotel (I believe) to wipe out Japan's entire squadron of AWACS as they are landing.

Oh, and they used it at the beginning of the book to capture a terrorist leader. Used it sort of like the neuralizer from MIB.

Does anyone know an earlier pop reference?

Blogger kudzu bob August 27, 2015 11:03 PM  

@72

Japan does not have nukes.

Japan has nine tons of plutonium stockpiled in various locations, and could produce nuclear weapons in six months...assuming that they don't also have bomb components already on hand as well.

Blogger kudzu bob August 27, 2015 11:07 PM  

@35

There are some obvious counters to laser attack - it's effectiveness could be reduced by making the underside of the airplane reflective and shiny, for example.

What a great idea! There might be some drawbacks to making our military aircraft easier to spot, but I cannot imagine what they could possibly be.

Blogger Joshua Sinistar August 27, 2015 11:18 PM  

Damn! Well there goes the Drone War the Pentagon was going for! Those supersonic jets with stealth may not be worried about man portable lasers, but those slow drones that buzz around in circles are dead meat now. Its a good thing we don't have an idiot in charge of the US Military that was basing his entire strategy on drones or - wait...

Blogger Curtis August 27, 2015 11:26 PM  

First EMP wins.

Blogger Ken Prescott August 27, 2015 11:40 PM  

Hmm.

Give me a nice, robust laser spot tracker. Attach it to a Mark 84 training shape. Fill the training shape with water.

Your laser will guide a 2,000+-pound steel water balloon onto your own position...not a practical countermeasure, but a hysterically funny one.

Blogger Harold August 27, 2015 11:48 PM  

@79 Actually, not a bad countermeasure. Put a pressure relief valve at a few hundred psi on it, and when it hits and breaks, a big cloud of expanding superheated steam...assuming the laser was powerful enough to heat it up.

Anonymous FP August 28, 2015 12:05 AM  

"Would terrorists need radiating radar? Why not use ADS-B Out, the new air traffic control system that every aircraft is mandated to install by 2020 to pinpoint all other air traffic? Costs a couple of thousand dollars, off-the-shelf tech, no restriction on acquisition or license to operate."

$50-100 in hardware and software buys you a virtual radar setup you hook up to a laptop via usb SDR receiver right now.

Anonymous Discard August 28, 2015 12:24 AM  

If I had to guess, I's say that Japan has nukes and isn't telling anyone. The NSA may know, China may know, Russia may know, but there's no need for anyone else to know. Every civilized country should have some adults behind the scenes, ready to grab the steering wheel when the clowns head for the cliff.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 28, 2015 12:25 AM  

The cameras can usually be zapped, too, Steve, and any filter capable of defending against all spectra - at least, so I've been told - is basically black anyway.

Anonymous Discard August 28, 2015 12:28 AM  

71. Harold: Don't forget the 400,000 trucks we sent to Russia. Sherman tanks and second string aircraft were helpful, but trucks were a war winner. No trucks, no mobility.

Blogger automatthew August 28, 2015 12:40 AM  

any filter capable of defending against all spectra - at least, so I've been told - is basically black anyway

Tautologically true. Which is scary.

Anonymous Mike M. August 28, 2015 12:47 AM  

The Navy has a deployed shipboard laser now. In theater, IIRC.

That being said, directed energy weapons are hard to make work at long range. Even the Airborne Laser (a 747 full of chemical laser gear) was only getting hits at ~ 15 miles.

Blogger ray August 28, 2015 12:49 AM  

"This means that the battle for air supremacy is going to have to move higher, which is to say, space."


Sure. And it's not the Final Frontier. But it is the next frontier, it's biblical, and it is shore de plum. Not out there but in here.

You can't have enemies hovering about all the time, misdirecting thought and imagination, jamming the hydrants, gobbling everything. Drying up the river of the cultures and nations.

Anyone willing to live under that, maybe deserves it.

Anonymous Jack Amok August 28, 2015 1:15 AM  

"This means that the battle for air supremacy is going to have to move higher, which is to say, space."

Lasers work even better in space...

Huh, I find myself thinking of 2300AD for the second time in a week. One of the campaign settings was a frontier planet that had been invaded by aliens. Even after the aliens had been mostly driven off, aircraft were still effectively grounded because of all the automated AA missiles scattered around.

I could see PlaneZappers deployed into enemy territory via ballistic shells with landing systems like the Mars rovers use. You're not only denying your airspace to the enemy, you're denying his own airspace to him as well. And since there's no reason these things can't target trains and trucks too...

Blogger luagha August 28, 2015 1:23 AM  

George Shultz, Reagan's Secretary of State was once asked how close japan was to a nuclear weapon. He answered, "Oh, they could pull an all-nighter."

Blogger Groot August 28, 2015 1:35 AM  

So you guys can talk technology, just about military stuff. Like shiny stuff to a raccoon. Go wash this in a river:

Forget airplanes and war. Think assassination. Set up a laser system, with visual access to a thoroughfare where your target will one day navigate, on an "overgrown camera, swiveling around on a tripod." Connect it to face recognition software. Go home. Wait. Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation ensues.

@61. artraccoon:

I am Groot.

Blogger Groot August 28, 2015 1:44 AM  

@91. luagha:
"George Shultz, Reagan's Secretary of State"

I was in an elevator with him at Stanford one time. I wanted to let him know that he had a friend even though we were in SJW land, but even though Reagan was still alive, he was deep into the Alzheimer's. I'm usually able to find the right phrase for the moment, but I was still struggling by the time one of us got off the elevator. "He was a great man, I mean, is a great man, even though he's presently a drooling idiot." No, not quite. "Despite his present enjoyment of diapers, back in the day, I considered him..." Um, no. I still haven't quite worked out what I should have said.

Blogger buzzardist August 28, 2015 2:22 AM  

But a major Achilles heel for the Japanese is the fact that the public at large is largely pacifistic.

I doubt this will prove much of a problem if the situation moved toward war. That "largely pacifist" population also has more or less consistently reelected an increasingly hawkish government. Pacifism remains stronger in Japan than it is in, say, America, but it's already waning. How quickly did American sentiment shift away from pacifism to aggressive militarism as soon as Pearl Harbor was hit? Japan's military spending is already extremely high. I have no doubt their military would mobilize quickly if Japan were attacked, with strong support from the Japanese public.

The question is what sort of initial attack Japan would have to weather. Conventional? Japan will survive, mobilize, and hit back. It's a massive feat to put enough troops on the ground in Japan to fight, so any initial fighting would be air and sea battles, with possible missile strikes and bombings to Japan's infrastructure. Nuclear? That would be messier. Whoever dropped the nuke would have to be convinced America would not respond in kind. They'd have to be even more convinced that Japan didn't already have nukes, or that Japan wouldn't be able to attain them for a long time. To guarantee the latter, the first strike would have to achieve annihilation of most of Japan's industrial and military infrastructure. As others have noted, Japan could get the bomb within a matter of months, if not sooner. They have the raw materials. They have a successful space launch program. They have the scientists. It's just a matter of putting all the pieces together.

Japan's bigger Achilles heel is instead it's aging population and related fiscal situation. Wars need money, and Japan is already tapped.

Blogger buzzardist August 28, 2015 2:22 AM  

But a major Achilles heel for the Japanese is the fact that the public at large is largely pacifistic.

I doubt this will prove much of a problem if the situation moved toward war. That "largely pacifist" population also has more or less consistently reelected an increasingly hawkish government. Pacifism remains stronger in Japan than it is in, say, America, but it's already waning. How quickly did American sentiment shift away from pacifism to aggressive militarism as soon as Pearl Harbor was hit? Japan's military spending is already extremely high. I have no doubt their military would mobilize quickly if Japan were attacked, with strong support from the Japanese public.

The question is what sort of initial attack Japan would have to weather. Conventional? Japan will survive, mobilize, and hit back. It's a massive feat to put enough troops on the ground in Japan to fight, so any initial fighting would be air and sea battles, with possible missile strikes and bombings to Japan's infrastructure. Nuclear? That would be messier. Whoever dropped the nuke would have to be convinced America would not respond in kind. They'd have to be even more convinced that Japan didn't already have nukes, or that Japan wouldn't be able to attain them for a long time. To guarantee the latter, the first strike would have to achieve annihilation of most of Japan's industrial and military infrastructure. As others have noted, Japan could get the bomb within a matter of months, if not sooner. They have the raw materials. They have a successful space launch program. They have the scientists. It's just a matter of putting all the pieces together.

Japan's bigger Achilles heel is instead it's aging population and related fiscal situation. Wars need money, and Japan is already tapped.

Blogger Joshua Sinistar August 28, 2015 2:23 AM  

Japan has had nukes for years. They have some of the best breeder reactors in the world for "peaceful" purposes. Japan has officially been anti-nuclear since they are the only country that was ever really nuked. Many Japanese are still alive with massive burns on their bodies from the attacks and Japan has a ferocious anti-nuclear movement. However, with America losing its reputation as a Superpower, Japan is remilitarizing. I understand they are now building Aircraft Carriers to aid in peace missions for natural disasters. One is named the Kaga, just like the carrier that Yamamoto used to visit Hawaii. Soon I imagine they might build a really big support ship for peaceful aid missions. Maybe they can call it the Yamato? With a powerful engine it might have a nice main gun, and maybe even fly? Go, Yamato, Go!

Anonymous Steve Brown VFM#0273 August 28, 2015 2:24 AM  

@27
"If this laser weapon were actually deployed, the countermeasures are simple, cheap, and obvious."

Do these countermeasures remain simple, cheap, and obvious when they have to be deployed on every commercial aircraft? What am I missing?

Anonymous Bz August 28, 2015 4:56 AM  

"He was a great man, I mean, is a great man, even though he's presently a drooling idiot." No, not quite. "Despite his present enjoyment of diapers, back in the day, I considered him..." Um, no. I still haven't quite worked out what I should have said.

Haha, oh dear, that's a terrifying capacity for putting your foot in your mouth, possibly a fair bit up the ankle. In Reagan's case, you could for instance have said "it's difficult to see him afflicted now, but he was and is a great man".

Anonymous The Kulak August 28, 2015 5:01 AM  

@ 94 - 95 Just as long as the Sons of Dai Nippon don't launch a kamikaze attack on Sakhalin or the Kuriles. Ivan will kick their ass and we'll all find out just how well AEGIS can handle a massive Russian Backfire raid, or even land based anti-shipping variants of the Iskander (300 mile radius to get under the 1987 IMF treaty, but as Gertz and the perpetual sequester fighters are always pointing out easily replacing the old SS-25s with a booster stage) that come in at Mach 5.

Hopefully Japan has no such plans but I don't trust their government not to do whatever scut task the crazy neocons order unless their military says 'Na' or the faction around Abe gets pushed out fast. Meanwhile, China has is DF-31s whose terminal stage from outer space is Mach 11. They would come in like friggin' meteors and kill those Japanese destroyers laser equipped or not and I don't think the tracking systems would be able to get them all except in a Tom Clancy fantasy. But yeah, nobody's gonna invade Japan -- what would be the point? or press them too hard because they can nuke up in weeks not months.

Anonymous The Kulak August 28, 2015 5:10 AM  

"the introduction of the T-14 Armata tank by the Russians..."

"The Russians can't afford to build them though" wrong, they'll build them, though India may actually crank them out more quickly than the Russians or at about an equal pace through co-production. Same as the T-50 fighter. At least CIA will be able to bribe some Indian engineers on the project to give them parts and specs.

Armata is going to be the T-72 of the 21st century, not perfect, but affordable, reliable, and certainly out selling in the export market anything we'll come up with unless DoD procurement radically changes. The new AK assault rifle is also likely to pick up where the -47 and AKM-74 left off in terms of export popularity.

As for air defense and the defanging of American air dominance, Russia already has the S-400 deployed to Kaliningrad (and probably on standby to shut down the air space 100 miles in to Donbass, so forget about those idiots in the comments I see at other sites lusting for a USAF bombing raid on the NAF lines to 'send a message'), and the rumor is Russian technicians brought down the F-117 over Serbia using passive radar sets that basically detected the 'hole' left by a stealth aircraft against long radar waves, of the type the British developed back prior to the Battle of Britain in the late 30s/early 40s. The alternative explanation which I never found convincing considering it's a big sky is that the Russians were leaked the F-117's target/flight plan by helpful French or Greek officers at NATO HQ and/or a Serbian agent watched the -117 take off from Aviano and started his stopwatch so they timed a volley of 1960s vintage SA-3s near the target perfectly...an unlikely scenario.

The S-400/500 is better than the PAC-3 and basically means even the F-22s we're sending to Europe would not last long in a real shooting war.

Blogger KJE August 28, 2015 6:14 AM  

@ 100 (and others)

Everyone still seems fixated in a 2nd/3rd generation warfare mindset in a 4th generation world...

Blogger bob k. mando August 28, 2015 9:28 AM  

2. Giraffe August 27, 2015 3:29 PM
Obvious weakness is the radiating radar required to target the planes. But that's probably solvable, by targeting the anti-radar missles.




no radar is necessary.

lasers are line of sight. if you can laze the target, you've ALREADY established that you can SEE the target.

quadcopters have stabilized video.

now,
IF quadcopters are image stabilizing the video feed *in real time* through video processing
THEN you've already got your targeting system built in.



3. Josh August 27, 2015 3:31 PM
Space Lasers!
In Space!



Josh, you fool. it's
"Space Lasers!
In Atmo!"

the 'in Space' part comes later, after we've already allowed China to occupy the prime LaGrange points.



35. FrankNorman August 27, 2015 5:34 PM
it's effectiveness could be reduced by making the underside of the airplane reflective and shiny, for example.



*facepalm*

yeah, so much for that whole stupid 'stealth' idea.

by 'hardening' your target against lasers, you've just rendered your craft 100% targetable by optical tracking.

and done nothing to protect the pilots eyes ( the actual weak point being attacked in the essay ).

bravo, well done. may we have another?

Blogger Cail Corishev August 28, 2015 9:49 AM  

Was waiting for the first "Real Genius" reference.

Someone has to pick the low-hanging fruit.

Blogger CarpeOro August 28, 2015 10:49 AM  

@ T. Kratman: Ever see this book from 1988? I thought the kinetic weapons an interesting bit, along with programmed upv tanks. If the battle moves higher, seems an interesting route to take.

http://www.amazon.com/Davids-Sling-Marc-Stiegler/dp/0671653695/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1440772825&sr=8-3&keywords=David%27s+Sling

Blogger Akulkis August 28, 2015 10:56 AM  

In the 1920's, Tesla foresaw "Death Rays" sweeping the skies of aircraft.
Less than 20 years later, the MASER was invented (it's a laser in which the electromagnetic energy is in the microwave radio band, rather than the light band).

The only thing lacking was anyone with Tesla's creativity to put 2 & 2 together to make 4. (Tesla had died about 10 years earlier).

Blogger Akulkis August 28, 2015 11:00 AM  

"Make them button up, blind their sensors and then attack with satchel charges or cheap remotely piloted vehicles...not that i am the first person to ever think of this... '

I won't go into specifics of how, but on-board sensors could be swapped in vehicle in seconds by the crew if mounted correctly. Then the question becomes how many spares do you carry to swap in (function of room available to carry spare sensors).

Anonymous cent August 28, 2015 11:19 AM  

@102, quadcopter with direct drive stablized gimbal already does this well real time, gives nice stable image. and it isn't that expensive. no post processing needed.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 28, 2015 11:45 AM  

Yeah, I've read it, Carpe, long ago. I remember being unimpressed.

Anonymous Duke of URL VFM#391 August 28, 2015 12:00 PM  

ESR Technology, a UK company?

Anonymous Duke of URL VFM#391 August 28, 2015 12:45 PM  

@72
Thanks for the update - having been retired for a long time, I didn't realize how immense the modern wash-down systems are.
The purpose of the wash-down (at least when I was on an LST in the 70s) was in case a nuke went off up-wind - it was intended to reduce the hit we'd take from the heat flash and then to prevent radioactive particles from settling on the ship.
Having worked with some esoteric weapons systems, I seem to recall that lasers become totally ineffective when trying to beam through a large quantity of moving water; thus, presuming you have enough time to react, the wash-down would provide an excellent shield. It's not as though you're going to run out of water, after all (heh).

Blogger SirHamster (#201) August 28, 2015 1:16 PM  

Set up a laser system, with visual access to a thoroughfare where your target will one day navigate, on an "overgrown camera, swiveling around on a tripod."

A competent Secret Service would be tracking the minimum footprint (power source, etc) needed for a such a "camera".

Though... isn't it cheaper and about as effective to put a gun in it?

Blogger SirHamster (#201) August 28, 2015 1:24 PM  

Having worked with some esoteric weapons systems, I seem to recall that lasers become totally ineffective when trying to beam through a large quantity of moving water

Water droplets would scatter the laser light, reducing its intensity. If vaporized, the water becomes steam and obscures the target, as well as absorbing some of the laser energy payload with water's high specific heat.

So that's a neat option for navy. (in addition to natural weather effects) Planes have it tougher.

Blogger Floyd Looney August 28, 2015 1:34 PM  

They are just proving your point, as expected.

Blogger Floyd Looney August 28, 2015 1:34 PM  

Ignore the last comment.

Blogger Floyd Looney August 28, 2015 1:41 PM  

Here is something cool. They propelled a light cone into the sky with a laser for 12 seconds and 233 feet. Obviously this has me thinking of a possible close-in-weapon-system for a spacecraft. Even a light aluminum cone launched at high speed would do some real damage I bet.

See around 2:00 of this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtH-SxqdtaA

Anonymous The Kulak August 28, 2015 4:49 PM  

@ 101 I would tend to agree with you, but what Russia is doing is waging 4th generation warfare against the U.S. and its post-Maidan Ukrainian client state by proxy in Donbass. The Russian armed forces on the border are basically the cover and shield for the Voentorg ("army surplus store") flow of arms and "North Wind" (Russian Afghanistan and Chechnya veterans, not active duty servicemen) flow into the breakaway Russian proxy states of the DPR/LPR. The Russian objective isn't to march all the way to Kiev, but to economically and above all morally exhaust the Kiev regime, as well as make the USA OWN the collapse of the Ukrainian economy, the tortures and disappearances of 'suspected separatists', and the strutting Bandera flag and SS Das Reich division rune fetish uniforms of the Azov Battalion. Oh and destroying the credibility of the EU so that the European states that breakaway from it join the Eurasian Union or much more likely simply sign association deals with it and the New Silk Road/AIIB pacts with China would be a bonus.

Uncle Sam broke it (not that Ukraine hadn't been rotting for over twenty years, as the line went in the movie "Everything is Illuminated" 'what happened here? Independence"), and now they're gonna make him own it.

Blogger Groot August 28, 2015 7:22 PM  

@111. SirHamster (#201):
"A competent Secret Service"

Funny your mind jumps to that. I was actually thinking of somebody like Saddam. The word that comes to my mind with "Secret Service" is "prostitutes," rather than "competent."

Blogger Joe Katzman August 28, 2015 9:36 PM  

The whole thing really made me think of Steve Jackson's G.E.V. But it won't play out that way.

"This means that the battle for air supremacy is going to have to move higher..."

Not necessarily. Precision weapons are really shrinking, and one obvious option is to move lower and used swarms + decoys. After all, lasers are sequential, unlike missiles which can engage in parallel. This swarm + decoys concept can be built into weapons (indeed, some concepts are already on the drawing board) as well as carrying platforms.

Lasers also bias toward deployment of supersonic weapons, to minimize engagement time and thus maximize the laser power level required for kills.

Third, throw in the growth of nano materials. And advances in synthetic diamond production, for use in electronics applications.

Lasers are a change, no question. And it won't be business as usual. But there will still be a lot of fighting below the level of space.

Anonymous Dew August 28, 2015 9:55 PM  

Others too are enlightened.
http://www.amazon.com/NDB7A75-445nm-450nm-Copper-Module/dp/B00YENH31S/

OpenID jakoye August 28, 2015 11:17 PM  

@buzzardist
China's not going to invade Japan. It would be too expensive and certain to lead to American intervention. What China MIGHT do, however, is take over the Senkuku islands, which are right on its doorstep. If China was to do that, I think the Japanese would have a hard time dislodging them, since it would be much easier for China to provide air cover.

And let's not forget, China already has an aircraft carrier (an old Russian one) and is building new ones. 10 years out, especially if the US Navy keeps shrinking, the South China Sea will be a Chinese lake.

Anonymous Discard August 29, 2015 12:24 AM  

120 jakoye: If China takes the Senkukus, wouldn't Japan re-arm in a big way? And sell modern weapons to the countries threatened by China? Let Japan and the countries around the South China Sea be the strategic counterbalance to China.

Blogger ajw308 (#98) August 29, 2015 12:45 PM  

Byes, Laser defense systems will render artillery ineffective.

Blogger Tom Kratman August 29, 2015 6:53 PM  

ajw:

I'm skeptical. An artillery shell is a much stouter item than a aircraft body, even as it spins very rapidly which will prevent much heat transfer or buildup.

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