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Laser-equipped 747 438

omnirealm writes ""Engineers are making plans to change the gentle giant (Boeing 747) into a hot-blooded killer with a swiveling nose-cone laser beam theoretically capable of destroying enemy missiles hundreds of miles away." Of particular interest is the fact that "No human finger will actually pull a trigger. Onboard computers will decide when to fire the beam." I find this to be a bit disconcerting. " Somehow I feel as if we had posted this a while ago - no search found it. i do remember that this has been talked about for quite some time, tho'.
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Laser-equipped 747

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  • There already exist, out in the field, systems that determine whether an object is a missile based on the plume. The system 'looks' at each object, detects whether or not a plume exists, and then categorizes which tier the missile is in based on that plume.

    The creation of the database is not the expensive part though, the amount of regression testing they use is.
  • Did you ever hear about the flight sim environment demoed in australia where the programmers put new images on ground troop objects to represent kangaroos? The aircraft flew over the kangaroos, they scattered, regrouped, and launched surface-to-air missiles and took down the aircraft!

  • Good point and I was thinking of that when I posted my comment.

    Which won't stop someone from trying innovative ways to try to defeat the system. Passive means, launch in bad weather, attack the aircraft (see Tom Clancy's <i>Red Storm Rising</i>, <i>Hunt for Red October</i> and <i>Debt of Honor</i> for ways of dealing with AWACS-style aircraft), ground infrastructure,....

    USAF really wants to do this - they've been squeezed out of theatre missile defense and this is their ticket back in for the R&D and procurement dollars. And not every potential theater can be defended from ground (Patriot and successors) or sea-based (Ageis) systems.
  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:39AM (#511076) Homepage
    Aircraft and ships are constantly being tossed around by the fluid through which they travel.
    Fixed-trajectory munitions will miss unless the roll, pitch and yaw are compensated for. Hitting a 10 ft target at 100 miles isn't easy.

    What will probably happen is a target is locked into the fire control computer, the operator presses the fire button, and the computer waits a few milliseconds until the weapon is on target (after compensating for aiming offset, refractive index gradients, target movement, etc).

    I'm sure the big 16" guns on US Battleships have very sophisticated firing [delay] systems. Just so they can hit the broadside of a barn at 15 miles. Otherwise, they could miss the broadside of a mountain!
  • They were talking about that at least as early as next year. They finally figured out how to get the hardware down to the size where it'd actually fit in the plane.

    Now all we need is an orbiting mirror and our Saddam Hussein problems will be history...

  • The Army has flown big lasers on a 767 since the 80s. The 747 is just a larger platform with more capacity. I haven't read the article yet, but some posts about 1 or 5 megawatt lasers were just laughable. We used to blast paint off plywood at close range to test a 1 megawatt lab laser. Not very dangerous! If you find some material on estimated output of modern lasers in the 10,000 pound class, I think you will find much higher numbers. As for confusion between civilian/military aircraft, airframes have been shared since the 1920s, no big deal. Some people still think the 707 was developed and financed by the military (the KC-135 is very similar). Given this oh-so scary news story, I think we will soon see the movie Air Force One II with Harrison Ford swooping in low over Iraq to blast that bad boy off the face of the planet for good, using his trusty 747 laser gun. The article probably came from Hollywood just to promo this pic!
  • This weapon system is essentially a Theater Defense against high-speed strategic ballistic missile attack. It doesn't have enough range to do anything but cover a city, a landing beach or a tightly-packed missile range, so it's not going to be an effective ABM system for national defense purposes. Rather, it will be used to protect expeditionary forces such as Gulf War ops, and to protect embattled allied nations such as Taiwan or Israel. It could also protect AWACS from very-long-range SAMs, so the two planes may be needed to mutually support each other.

    This system will buy us 10-15 years of temporary theater ballistic superiority until such time as more powerful ground-based lasers or cheap long-range SAMs are deployed.

    In looking long-term at the entire ABM issue, I have come to conclusions which displease both pro- and anti-ABM people.

    ABM systems cannot protect cities from van/suitcase/cargo container nukes for the reasons so often cited in earlier posts. The idea that the citizenry would be directly protected by such systems is a mockery of the truth.

    On the other hand, ABM systems have a reasonable chance of protecting a few specific patches of land, such as say an ICBM base or a C3I facility. Since such high-value land can be protected by security forces on the ground from the suitcase bomber, China, Russia or whomever would have no choice but to attack that land with a missile. If an ABM system works properly, the missile will fail and we will be able to direct our retaliation effectively.

    A key element of missile targeting that is not often noted by the press or hysteria-mongers is recon, especially post-strike. You have to know where to attack in order to fire a missile, and to know whether you need to 'revisit' a target. LA may be hard to miss but it's a bit more difficult to attack moving ground forces or missiles. Space warfare in the form of ASAT weapons is a very key element in effective ABM warfare.

    Incidentally the ABL-747s greatest strategic effect may be in ASAT warfare.

    Bottom Line- ABM can ensure MAD and thus deterrence, but can never protect us. ABM should be pursued to keep our deterrence up and allow our conventional and special operations to function, but we should not destroy our nation's treasury or diplomatic position to pursue a chimerical level of protection that we will never acheive.
  • >Why do all the arab nations hate us?

    Not enough space here to list all the grievances they have against the US. The US has screwed them over so many ways it ain't funny. But they (seem to me) to give every indication of not hating - sure, there are hardliners & religious fanatics (probably no more than there are in the USA :-), but it seems that most arab nations would be happy for the US to just butt out of their affairs, and that would be the end of the whole nasty business. 'Course, as long as US citizens demand the right to drive gas guzzlin' SUVs, butting out ain't likely. And as long as the US keeps giving Israel all the weaponry and support it wants to paint the desert with arab blood, same thing. But if the USA were to genuinely treat other nations as sovereign entities, the problems would evaporate within a generation (or possibly two).

    If your wife was killed by US missiles, working at phamaceuticals factory that had nothing to hide, and all indications suggested that the reason it was bombed was because the US president needed a target NOW to distract his citizens from his own mistakes back home, you have one HELL of a grievance, and it is entirely justified. Now take a hundred people who have similarly had their lives unjustly destroyed by USA for no reason, and it would astonishing if a small percentage of them didn't harbour thoughts of revenge. Cease fucking up peoples lives, and it doesn't occur to them that they should make great sacrifices in order to fuck up yours. Even the religous hardliners would remain obsessed with more mundane and visible blasphemies closer to home if the USA wasn't so visible as the motherlode of injustice and evil in the world (which is how it is likely to appear if you live in a nation or area that is constantly at the receiving end).

    Other countries have found other methods of getting most of what they need, and trying to not pursue "Strategic Interests" likely to cause long-term problems. In comparison, the US approach of "We're the greatest so screw you - we'll do as we please" does not seem so smart, even if it does bring better oil and coffee (and who knows what else) prices in the short term. I can't see anything changing though - it doesn't matter that it's unnecessary, it's part of the US culture and mindset now.

  • Pretty much right on with everything I've mentioned so far. It is refreshing to see someone else on /. who is involved with the military and gets to actually see all of the tremendous effort that goes into defending our country. Most of the people who tend to comment on this sort of thing are the peanut gallery who get their World News Updates(tm) on CNN every night.
  • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:40AM (#511100)
    I was looking at the description of this a few years back also. (Can't find the article now either, stange.) The impressive hurdle they had to overcome was getting the laser to actually hit the target.

    They had a problem with the atmosphere curving the beam. They were using something new, a mirror that could be adjusted on the fly, extremely fast, it's in the nose. Turbulence is very very slow compared to targeting and firing. The only other thing they mentioned was that it was a chemical laser.

  • If you look at the B-2, you'll see that the insignia are there. Not to mention that you don't fly in anything like that to fly home and see grandma for the holidays. ;)
    Check these links for more info:
    http://www.andrews.af.mil/89aw/jag/LOAC%20Points%2 0to%20Remember.html [af.mil]
    http://www.asociety.com/geneva1.html [asociety.com]
  • I remember a contract for this floating around when I was in defense, except the laser was for tracking and locking for anti-icbm missiles... a huge LADAR/LIDAR array mounted (at the time) in the cargo hold, not the nose, somewhere below what would be first class.

    Working on ground based LIDAR tracking (on top of a volcano), my employers were naturally interested in this contract. It never materialized...
  • by BarefootClown ( 267581 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:44AM (#511112) Homepage
    This is actually fairly old news--I gave a briefing on this to my ROTC class last year, in fact. The highlights of the briefing:

    The airframe is a Boeing 747-400F, a standard commercial freighter, with modifications to house the laser.

    Testing is slated to begin as early as 2003, with a seven-plane operational fleet in service as early as 2009.

    The laser is to be a multi-megawatt oxygen-iodine system. A multi-hundred-kilowatt system was successfully flight-tested in 1998.

    The system uses "adaptive optics," mirrors which can be deformed to correct for atmospheric effects such as "thermal bloom," the heating of air by the laser, causing distortion (like looking down a hot road).

    The project is run by the Air Force Research Labs Directed Energy Directorate, based at Kirtland AFB, NM, and has been around in some form or other for at least 20 years.

    Contractors include Boeing, TRW Space and Electronics Group (developing laser), and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space (developing beam- and fire-control systems).

    Boeing and Rockwell competed for a $22 million concept-definition contract, with Boeing winning that contract, and the $1.3 billion Airborne Laser Program Definition and Risk Reduction contract.

    The program calls for destruction of a boosting theater ballistic missile by the fall of 2002.

    A follow-on contract of about $4.5 billion to complete engineering, manufacturing, development and production efforts of a seven aircraft fleet will be awarded following successful completion of the initial contract.

    There were some really neat pictures of the airplane on the USAF website www.af.mil [af.mil], as well as a couple of stories, but they've been relegated to the archives. One of those stories, from which most of this information is taken, can be found at http://www.af.mil/news/Jan2000/n20000124_000101.ht ml [af.mil]. Incidentally, the best description I've ever found of the optical technology can be found in Tom Clancy's The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

    An additional note: there was mention that a computer would fire the laser, not a person. This is true, at least after a fashion. Yes, the computer actually fires the laser--this is necessary, as there is no human out there who has the timing to hit an object moving at 12,000 miles an hour. The system must first be armed, though, and this is done by a human. While I do understand the concern about a computer controlling the weapon, in this case, there is still a man in the loop.

  • by drix ( 4602 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @11:28AM (#511113) Homepage
    Doesn't this system effectively constitute a TMDS (Theater Missile Defense System)? It seems like if any such system were to have a prayer of working, it would have to be something roughly along these lines. The Achilles Heel of a ballistic MDS is of course that you can just fire off n nukes and 10^n things that look just like nukes and effectively stymy the defender's ability to shoot down the missiles that really count. I don't think there are effective ways of solving this problem within the confines of a ballistic system, despite what proponents would have you believe about their ability to "profile" missiles and determine if they are the real McCoy or not.

    But it seems like, given enough computing power and electricity, a couple of these 747s could blow away a whole bunch of missiles in a relatively short amount of time. And because they are flying and not fixed on our soil, or on soil at all, they don't violate the 1972 ABM treaty either. Since the incoming administration seems very gung-ho about implementing missile defense (which is a very stupid idea... but that's another thread), it seems like this system could be the answer to their prayers, so to speak. I'm curious why more senators & congressmen haven't jumped on board with more funding for this program, or why it has recieved relatively little publicity given that the failure of our ballistic MD tests made international headlines last year.


  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @11:31AM (#511116) Homepage
    as there is no human out there who has the timing to hit an object moving at 12,000 miles an hour

    Obviously, this guy isn't playing on the same Quake 3 servers as I am.


  • The beginnings of "Skynet".
    Again, when will it become self-aware?
  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @10:24AM (#511120) Homepage

    Especially about the gentle giant. 747 is a subject to additional USAF and NATO requirements and all 747s currently in operation are subject to draft in case of military emergency. Which actually happened during the Gulf War. The airlines were extremely pissed off but there was nothing they could do.

    It is not a gentle giant. It is a military transport aircraft. It is redundant by the military, not the civil aviation spec (check the engine redundancy and power excess parameters for example). And it was already used in several projects as a carrier for Star Wars weapons (mostly missiles and stuff). So nothing new. Nothing amazing.

  • Good point.
    There can never be a 100% guarantee that firing on an aircraft is what you plan or intend to do. However, when an unfortunate tragedy takes place, those countries (or organizations, in the case of NATO) who follow LOAC will own up to the error and take the necessary measures to determine what punishments - if any - are appropriate.
    My comment was particulary aimed at the arguement that "all 747s" are now targets. There are plenty of means to authenticate aircraft (and, yes, I'm aware that IFF doesn't always work correctly) that should prevent the tragic losses that would inevitably take place without those means.
  • Pressure? What're you smokin', boy? Light is/is almost massless. It has no volume or density and therefore no pressue.

    What a Gigawatt+ laser does have is lots and lots of energy! Even if *some* of the energy is reflected, the vast majority is still imparted to the mirrored surface, thus degrading the missle's hull as stated in the CNN article or burning through it altogether.
  • Time travel things. Now I'm going to have to go back to before I posted this and make sure I get it right...
  • The one thing I didn't see ... was any description of how the computer-guided tracking system identifies something as a missile...
    What else climbs beyond 60,000 feet at hypersonic speeds and leaves a multi-gigawatt infrared track? Can you think of anything?
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard
  • Nukes and most other weapons won't arm until they are either 1) reasonably close to their target, or 2) reasonably far from the launch site.
  • Schweet... how long will it take before someone breaks into the computer tracking system and heats up a giant ball of jiffy-pop popcorn?
  • That would be very suspicious - since there's no passengers getting on/off - or any cargo leaving...
  • I saw a video of this once, where the plane went up into space, flipped over and shot downwards at a nasty terrorist guy. Fortunately some guys got onboard the plane, replaced some of the ROMs and had the laser fire at a big ball of popcorn in one of the scientist's house, thereby notifying a Senator, and thus the free world. Whew!

  • by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @10:32AM (#511149) Homepage
    If memory serves, the plane that was shot down in this tragedy was a 747.

    The NATO forces were purportedly running Cobra Ball surveillance runs in the area in question that night. Cobra Ball planes are made out of Boeing RC-135 airframes, which are derivatives of the Boeing 707 and look like a large 707 in profile. While they're obviously different in profile, someone could accidentally mistake one for the other in the heat of a tense situation.

    This translates into a dangerous in the dark situation where someone in a combat plane might mistake a civillian airliner with a military plane and shoot it down- which is what aparently happened in the case of KAL 007.

    Now this takes into account the prospects of a situation where the countries and the people involved are aware of the "Law" of Armed Conflict (which really isn't a law but an agreement between most of the potential combattants in a conflict- that's usually honored). What about the others that aren't in on the agreements or just don't give a damn?
  • You know, reading these comments i kept thinking of C&C: Red alert 2, and reading this one really clinched it- the game *IS* essentially presision (chrono leigonares, bombing runs) vs mass destruction (nukes, dynamite, etc.)

    Mostly, though, this reminds me of the Allied side's "Prism" technology- essentially lasers. You can have prism towers for defence, and if you have more than 1 they can reflect off each other, it's rather interesting.

    I think this should be called a "Prism Jet"- cuz that's basically what it is.
  • by skoda ( 211470 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @10:33AM (#511152) Homepage
    I don't know the details of this system, but I can make some guesses at the types of problems they've had to work through:

    - Powerful lasers can ionize the air along the path, creating a plasma barrier that subsequently stops/hinders the laser beam. General workarounds include pulsing the beam to "beat" a path through the atmosphere or using a large enough beam so the total energy is high but the power at any given point is low.

    - A temperature gradient in the atmosphere results in an index of refraction gradient. This will cause the beam path to deviate from a straight line. (This is the cause of mirages - hot road, cool air == large temperature gradient). If the gradient is large enough or the beam distance far enough, the beam could be moved significantly off-target (according to a straight-line estimate). I'd guess this is not an issue for this system, but I don't know.

    - Scattering. If there are clouds, then there are water droplets or perhaps ice crystals, which will scatter and absorb the laser beam to various extents (depending on the wavelength chosen). Then will reduce or eliminate the laser's effectiveness. Solutions include selecting a wavelength that is not scattered or absorbed strongly by water, and praying for good weather :)

    - Maintaining laser alignment. The mirrors in a laser (assuming it isn't a solid state laser) have pretty low tolerances for their position. Maintaining the alignment in a hostile environment (e.g. loud, bumpy 747 ride) might be a challenge. But, feedback-based stabilizing systems have been around for years, so this was probably dealt with pretty readily.

    Anyhow, just some thoughts from an optics geek.

    And remember, do not look directly at the laser with your remaining good eye.
    D. Fischer
  • been there, done that.

    There's already a refueling jet based off of the DC-10, I think it's designated the KC-10.

    Doesn't matter if they have similar radar fingerprints, passenger jets get shot down all the time, mistaken identity (that Iranian jet in the 80's) or not (KAL 007).

  • Recognizing a missile that is in the early stages of a launch is not that hard to do. Those things accelerate much faster than any manned aircraft (the pilot would pass out or die) and they have a huge rocket plume that is very easy to identify by infrared. Good luck thinking of something that would confuse the computer, because I can't think of anything. The big danger I see is in the sensor equipment, not the code. That's a whole different bag of monkeys, though.
  • Probably an operator will not be involved, at least not in the plane.

    When intercepting ICBMs, there is a very narrow window of time where it will be feasible (considering the potential limited range the weapon will have).

    This plane will likely be part of a large system, connected to ground computers, and radar stations all over the world. When the SYSTEM detects a missile, and determines what it is, and where it's headed, and calculates which flying laser platform would be in the best position, THEN it will order the laser to fire, probably within a time window of a few seconds. It's not likely a human will be involved in any decision making process other than initially turning the system on.
  • I'd love to see the Zucker brothers make another Airplane! movie based on this story. I'd go see it.

  • This is what upsets me about any missile defence program dreamed up by the US Military:

    1. They are designed to shoot down missiles from "rogue states", all of which are showing increasing signs of political stability (Iran and North Korea are often quoted).

    2. Launching a missile at the US, regardless of the choice of device in the tip, is suicide. Send a scud, and all your launchers will be destroyed. Send a nuke, and say goodbye to your country.

    3. Does the high technology match the threat? In Somalia, high tech was no match for a pickup truck with a machine gun mount in the back. Recently, in Yemen(?) a destroyer was almost sunk by a small boat packed with explosives and guided by suicide bombers. How will missile defense deal with a suitcase nuke? How will nose mounted laser deal with a missile heading for it's lower back end?

    4. Why risk scrapping nuclear anti-proliferation treaties which forbid the development of missile killers such as a missile shield or a laser-747? The last thing the world needs is the renewed nationalist and isolationist tendencies that would result from an arms race. Both Russia and China have made great strides towards the open market, and towards more equitable treatment of their citizens since those treaties were signed. It makes sense: if you're not using most of your resources on defense/offense, you can better your society.

    5. Most importantly, this is incredibly expensive. $60B for a missile defense shield, $1.6B for the 747's ... Wouldn't the American people prefer improved schools, healthcare, or even tax cuts? All of these pay a much higher social dividend... unless you're a company/person involved in military R&D.

    I apologize if this seems like a rant, but the above issues never seem to be addressed by the proponents of anti-missile systems... and darn would I ever like an answer!

  • If we can do this, And I belive there was another device that could use a laser to destroy inboud missles from the ground (it's being used in Israel) then why do we need to have orbiting satalites that in my understnading are going to have explosive weapons rather than lasers?
  • The laser has to stay on target for some duration to do damage (several minutes, apparently - more than enough time for a maneuverable plane to fly a loop and get out of the way). The moving aircraft should be more than enough to compensate for a sustained hit. Especially if the aircraft maintains it's distance and stays behind the laser plane.

    Why do you think that if the laser can shoot for seven minutes, it MUST shoot for seven minutes to do any damage? Where did you get this info? Nowhere in the article does it say this, in fact it DOES say The laser has about only an 18-second "kill window" in which to lock on and destroy a rising missile, said Wills

    Wow, I found something to support my argument, your turn.

    And just like AWACS, it's a valuable target - in a real air war, AWACS would be a strategic target - the enemy would fly sorties against AWACS, presumably enough to take out the surrounding guards as well.

    I apologize that all the conflicts the US has gotten into haven't been 'Real' enough for you. The reason the enemy hasn't been able to fly a sortie against them is because the CO does his damnest not to let them. I'm still curious on how you're going to shoot this thing down.

    Again, I stay over the horizon (out of your LASER range) and fire my AA missiles at you. I don't know the official range of AA missiles, but it's more than enough for me to fly behind you and not actually cross the horizon and be in the line of sight of the laser. And I can do a quick 180 vertical loop and then rotate level and hit the afterburner to get away after the missiles are away.

    Ahh, more "Wing Commander" tactics. Last time I looked, an Over the Horizon Missile required an AWACS to operate. I don't believe any other country besides the US even has the tech, for the missile. Lets assume you're a fully supported rogue pilot, for the sake of argument. You're directly behind me, beyond the range of my weapon, and you fire off your missile, which has the range to hit me.

    ASSUMING, this new pride and joy of the Air Force has ABSOLUTELY no Electronic Warfare gear on it and

    ASSUMING there is no friendly AWACS in the area to warn me of incoming fighters and

    ASSUMING that this Anti-missile aircraft is the only one within 400 miles.

    What would happen is this, the missile would be picked up on infra-red, I turn the plane, say, 90 degrees, shoot down missile. Yawn.

    I have no idea how fast your missile is going, lets be generous and say 10,000 mph. To cross 400 miles it would require 2 minutes and 24 seconds (Ignoring acceleration time) leaving me plenty of time for me to turn my plane.

    (Most counter-measures rely on the craft being smaller and being able to move rapidly away from the counter-measure - I'm not sure how much flares/chaff would help a 747.)

    Flares? Chaff? How cute. I was a EW tech in the USAF. The stuff that goes on big planes can scramble missile guidance pretty easily due to the MASSIVE power supplies available to it.

    To sum, you're shooting a missile at a plane DESIGNED TO SHOOT DOWN MISSILES, how can you think this would be an easy kill?


  • When you think about it actually does make a kind of sense... these things don't need to be really maneuverable - and they can carry a pretty heavy payload.

    Add to that the fact that 747 are 'commercially available' and it even becomes financially feasible... and you could use commercially trained pilots - rather than expensive fighter pilots.
  • This is actually ILLEGAL. There are countless international laws that cover identification of combatants. It doesn't matter if it's offensive (fighter, bomber, etc), or defensive (Airborne Laser), or support (transport, tanker, etc).
  • by Rombuu ( 22914 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:08AM (#511195)
    I mean, this could be real useful when you are in one of those holding patterns trying to land at O'Hare....
  • So..... I'm just curious, if a laser will still damage a reflective surface, then how does the targeting mirror AIM the laser? Hm?
  • by drix ( 4602 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @01:47PM (#511204) Homepage
    You are correct, sir. I said that missile defense was a stupid idea right there in my post, for this very reason. The MAD doctrine virtually assures that no one in their right mind is going to launch a nuclear missile at us, because we'd launch six times as many W-88 nuclear warheads up their ass in a heartbeat. If a terrorist or some "rogue nation" - the State Departments current euphemism of the month - really wanted to nail the states, they'd carry over a 15lb nuke in a backpack and take out half of LA. And that's gonna be a lot, lot harder to defend against. Certainly for this reason NMD makes almost no sense - but the incoming administration seems hell-bent on it anyways, because they are stupid. So I offer up this laser thing as a tolerable alternative, because NMD on our own soil would wreak havoc internationally. There's a lot of good coverage of this in Slate if anyone is interested.

  • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:08AM (#511208)
    The one thing I didn't see in this news article was any description of how the computer-guided tracking system identifies something as a missile rather than, say, a pigeon or a stealth bomber.

    I wonder how long it would be before someone else can develop a type of missile which isn't identified as such by this system? And how much more will it cost them to release a patch?

  • All this stuff was well and good when it was a ploy to get the 3CP to bankrupt itself to keep up. Who we gonna use this stuff against? The next threat will be against Harpoon type anti ship missles, short-medium range tactical-nuclear-chemical-bio tips and the proverbial terrorist truck. You can see the logistical problem already. In the field in battle conditions you need one laser hog being directed by one AWACS being protected by a fighter screen being fueled by a KC-10, supported by a ground facility and so on. Why The Fuck do you think that it was easier to fly from Missouri to Iraq and back again in a B-2 than it was to screw around with trying to build a multibillion dollar support structure from scratch?
  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:09AM (#511216) Homepage Journal
    I bet saddam is having his missles chromed right now. Next we'll have to make a 747 that can take the chrome off a scud.


  • I will be more comforable in an obvious civilian plane than in a possible war plane.

  • Why is this news? Madonna has had such nose-cone lasers installed in her bras for years
  • To add: the 747 design is a derivation from the Boeing design entry in the large military cargo transport bid (the YC-4?); Boeing lost to the (now) Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.

    Little did Lockheed now that Boeing would turn around and use the failed design to create one of the most successful commercial products of all time --which ultimately, along with the B-52, made Boeing into the giant that is today...

  • by XJoshX ( 103447 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:09AM (#511226) Journal
    I don't really see how a 'weapon' designed to eliminate the threat of ICBMs and other missles is 'disconcerting'.

    I find it more disturbing that such a 'weapon' is actually considered a bad thing by some politicians...

    The computer part of it isn't anything surprising. When your dealing with aiming a weapon fired from a platform traveling ~400mph at something hundreds of miles away traveling even faster the average quake players aim isn't gonna cut it.

  • But don't think this is going to be a "Battlestar Gallactica" with wings. The plane is going to be one great big high-value target. It will need escort fighters, tankers to refuel the fighters, maybe an AWACS to manage things,... you get the idea.
    Kinda like a bunch of Colonial Vipers in the hangar and a rag-tag fleet of other ships nearby. In other words, it *would* be like a Battlestar Galactica with wings ;-)
  • You probably can't put it on a fighter jet cause it is to big. You need a plane as big as the 747 just to carry it all. The point will be to blow up in coming nuclear missiles. This thing will probably only work at high altitudes since non-linear optics would limit the range of a laser that powerful close to the ground. And no, you can't just put a mirror on the missiles. There is no way to make a perfect mirror. The mirror will still absorb a small amount of the power; this power will at least be enough to screw up your mirror so that the second blast will surely kill the missile. I believe this is some kind of chemical laser. I wonder how long you will have to wait for the next pulse? You will probably need the 747 to be escorted by fighter jets to stop the enemy (whoever that would be) from blowing it up.
  • What would happen is this, the missile would be picked up on infra-red, I turn the plane, say, 90 degrees, shoot down missile. Yawn.

    Most of your arguement is very valid, I just have to diagree with this one point quoted above. The laser system is designed to attack ballistic missles, not AAM or SAM types. Computation for ballistic missles vs missles designed to attack planes are two very different things. The path of a ballistic missle is very predictable, it is going to be parabolic and is going up, not to mention it is a VERY large target. Trying to hit something that is coming at you, which is constantly correcting so as to be able to hit, and attacking facing in such a way to give you the least amount of target it not going to be a walk in the park. According to your arguement the side of a ballistic missle going in a predetermined parabolic arc is just as easy as hitting the cone of an AAM moving in a dynamic path. I think you have been playing the humans on StarControl too much if you think it can just zap everything that tries to attack it, because it doesn't work that way.

    It has an 18 second window to hit the target. My guess is that the system designed to target is so speciallized so as to be able to get that 18 second window and fire that it probably cannot cope with other targets. Fighters would be the hardest because it they knew that they were going against something like that they would take precautionary manuvering, if complex enough (which is probably not very complex), would prevent the computer from being able to predict where the plane would be, and thereby prevent it from aiming and firing. Sure, nothing moves faster than the speed of light (as a physic major I know that all to well) but there are mechanical parts used for aiming in order for it to fire, which do not move at the speed of light. And unlike a missle which corrects after launch, or gunfire where it is a near continuous volley, if you miss then you have ~18 seconds before you have another shot.

    Although the USAF ECM is very good, if I was in one of these and some fighter managed to get close enough to start launching some AAMs at me I would start doing some pretty serious manuvering to not get hit. Then I would be requesting back-up asap. They aren't invincible, just as carrier groups aren't invincible. If it was being attacked I very much doubt that it would be a lone fighter, unless it was the only thing left after the escort was delt with.
  • by Dg93 ( 10261 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:10AM (#511244) Homepage
    www.airbornelaser.com [airbornelaser.com] - it's kind of funny, and very surreal. I thought it was a joke the first time I saw it, and watching the promo films [airbornelaser.com] on there made me think of the opening to Real Genius [imdb.com]. Gotta love it...
  • Well, it's like this. Would you rather

    a Shoot an enemy missile down over your own towns and cities

    b Shoot that sucker down over the towns and cities of the idgits shooting at us?

    This ain't a Romulan disrupter (we're still working towards that), when you hit the missile, it's going to fall down. A falling warhead is still going to do it's job.

    And on the space-environmental front, if we blow this stuff up before it gets up in the air, well that's less orbital debris : )

  • I think the laser would be of more use inside the plane. To get rid of: 1. Annoying people behind you who decide it's funny to keep kicking and moving your seat. 2. Children who don't stop crying. 3. People who put their seat back as soon as they get on the plane. Leaving tall people like me with their TV about 10cm away from their face. 4. All the people who can afford to fly first and business class and who look down upon us mortals who fly coach when we walk by. 5. People who hog the toilets. KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL!!!
  • Jeez, you'd think the flyboys would think about this for a second. OK, so we're going to retrofit one of the most widely used passenger airplanes with war-making technology.

    Now an enemy knows that the US has 747's used to shoot down missiles. Doesn't that suddenly make every 747 in the sky a suspect? Someone, please correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems likely in stressful times to make civilian airliners a legitimate target.
  • A falling warhead will not detonate? They are DESIGNED to detonate while falling. An airburst increases the effective radius of a nuclear blast, and a number (if not most) designs use altimeters to trigger detonation.

    But as you indicated, it doesn't have to explode to kill. And you assume that all warheads are nukes. I would'nt be as worried about a nuke, which only affects a geographic area, as I would about BioChem weapons.

    The point being, you don't want the wreckage falling on your country.

  • Thank you, that is exactly how I wanted to put it.
  • You can whine all you want, but a soveriegn nation is just that.

    That sounds like a pretty big double standard if you are defending US actions in/against other sovereign nations.

    It's easy for the little countries to cry about abuse of power. They've never abused their power, but then again they've never been in the situation the United States finds itself in.

    I completely disagree. I can think of a several countries who, in their theatre of the world, are in exactly the same position and power, yet do not act with the same belligerence, aggression, or paranoia. (Of course, I can also think of countries who, in the same position, did act with the same belligerence and paranoia, or worse).

    The "but the USA is unique and so is above ethical judgement" arguement just doesn't work. Other countries have been in the position that the US is in, and other countries currently are in similar positions. There is far and away enough preceedent to see that abuse of power IS a choice, NOT a necessity of situation. By your line of reasoning, any of the great abusive dictators of history had every right to do what they did.

    The unfortunate irony is that where there once were no terrorists, abuse creates them. And then the US cries foul when it reaps its entirely predictable harvest, and then steps up the abuse...

    One step soltuion to the "problem" of terrorists - stop creating them in the first place!
  • Puh-leeze... how about using your brain for one millisecond.

    Even MICROSOFT could write software which could reliably tell the difference between a subsonic target in steady, level flight with a minimal heat signature and a supersonic target accelerating in a near-vertical tragectory that's putting out enough thermal energy to boil a small lake.

    Unless someone's started making biplanes that can do 10G+ vertical climbs while spouting a 1/4 mile long plume of flame out of it's ass, I don't think there's going to be much of a problem. About the only event which could be confused with a missle launch is a civilian space shot - and those are announced MONTHS (if not YEARS) in advance, so that people with nuclear arsenals don't get itchy trigger fingers.

  • by Jafa ( 75430 ) <jafa@mark a n t e s.com> on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:12AM (#511268) Homepage
    some 747's with freakin' laserbeams on their heads! Honestly people, throw me a freakin' bone here...

    -Dr Evil
  • Normally, I would agree with the disconcerting factor of strapping lasers onto jets...

    But, I've seen "Moonraker."

  • by Yo_mama ( 72429 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:12AM (#511271) Homepage
    The killer satellites are to kill other satellites. The fuel needed by anything to vector towards a ballistic missile that is A) only going to be in the upper atmosphere for a short time B) traveling a lot slower and on a different course than anything in orbit.... there's just better ways than to put a floating fuel tank in space. Hence the 747 with a big stick :) I do believe that the chinese and Russians are pretty peeved about this though; upsets strategic balances, donchaknow.
  • by Gehenna_Gehenna ( 207096 ) <cavanetten@g m a i l .com> on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:12AM (#511275) Homepage
    It is at least theoreticly possible that we will have 747's blowing up terrrorists? Is it just me or is the irony overwhelming?
  • by tonyj ( 20863 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:12AM (#511278) Homepage
    This story reminds me of the movie Real Genius [imdb.com]. The parallels are staggering: Big laser mounted in a plane to be able to fire anywhere. In the movie, they talked about a 5 MegaWatt laser, and here they are saying the laser is more than 1 MegaWatt. Hmmmm.
  • >Hitting a 10 ft target at 100 miles isn't easy.
    we used to bullseye womp-rats in my T-16 back home, and they're not much bigger than 10 ft.
  • I beleive the problem with the failed missile defense systems so far has been targetting. We can get defense projectiles into the air, but getting them to meet incoming stuff has been a problem (ask anyone who's played Missile Command :).

    I'd like to see more info on how they solved the
    problem. I'm sure it helps that a laser beam travels a bit faster than a projectile, but there
    would still be some sort of tracking problem to solve, wouldn't there?

  • Well the military and police forces have been trying to come up with something resembling science fiction beam weapons for a while.

    Someone has even figured a way to come up with "phasers" that stun a person. Two laser beams ionize the air enough to provide the path of an electric current. sort of like a taser(?) without the wires.

    In any case, I am sure we will here more of this sort of thing.

    The US looks like it is walking in the direction of high tech beam weapons, etc. while the under developed nations go in the direction of bioweapons.

    An interesting balance of power, to say the least.

  • First off, if you can deflect the energy using a reflective surface (in this case a perfect mirror) then it will not absorb the energy.

    Secondly, you can't coat a missile with reflective surfaces. Not entirely anyway, nothing that would be like a mirror (laser focusing type) so it would just take a little fraction longer for it to burn through the reflective surface if it isn't near 100% reflective.

    That is why you can still blow up a reflective surface with a mirror, is because it's not a perfect reflective surface, and still catches the energy. The targetting mirrors are just very very very finely tuned so that it does not catch as much energy. Another reason why there are Red lasers, instead of say.. blue, indigo, or violet. Red lasers are of a lower frequency on the radiation band (Remember ROYGBIV color spectrum?). You can't harness the power of a violet laser, because the energy is just too intense and it takes too perfect of a mirror to refract the beam - way beyond our abilities.

  • The de Broglie relation tells us that light (and, indeed all matter and radiation) has a momentum equal in magnitude to Planck's constant divided by the wavelength of the radiation/particle (yes, matter has a wavelength).

    By my (quick) calculations, if the laser produces a beam at 600nm with 1 gigawatt of power, the beam delivers about 3.3 Newtons of force, assuming the photons are absorbed. If they're reflected, the force increases, but the calculations get slightly messy. A nearly perfectly reflective surface might feel about 6 Newtons... If that's concentrated to a spot 1 cm in diameter, that's about 42,000 Pascals of pressure. Not huge, but nothing to laugh at. There's also that 1 gigawatt of energy...
  • Having the computer decide when to fire is nothing new. The fire control systems of modern tanks consider the trigger as a "release", more or less, but the computer decides to actually fire the gun. Granted the difference between the trigger being pulled and the gun going boom is miniscule, its important; the fire control computer makes last minute adjustments of things before firing. Its almost like using a "predicting gunsight" on a fighter plane.

    After all, its hard to teach a human operator about things like barrel warp.
  • Here's an idea for avoiding thermal detection that's been bouncing around my head for a while:

    What happens if you include a tank of, say, liquid nitrogen, on the missile? For the first few seconds, during which thermal launch detection probably takes place, blast the liquid nitrogen into the exhaust stream, afterburner-style. It would cool off the exhaust gasses and reduce the thermal signature, and also provide a significant boost in thrust (help offset the weight cost). If you can carry enough on the missile, you could really screw up launch detection systems. Also, by spraying some into the exhaust now and then later in flight, you might be able to break a target lock by temporarily eliminating the thermal signature.

    The only obvious problems I see are weight and thermal stress on the exhaust nozzle.

  • ?T-?\s nukes. China has the delivery system to get them to (parts of) the US. China even has them pointed this way. The Chinese government also doesn't give a shit about human life. Hell, one of the army-controlled newspapers there even published a sixteen-page supplement on invading Taiwan, and mentioned using fucking neutron bombs (neutron bombs kill people, leave the building intact). MAD doesn't work if one of the two parties is insane.

    It's possible the US could end up in a war with China, (maybe over Taiwan). This is why a missile defense system is a good idea. I have nothing against the Chinese people, and nuking them to punish their government for nuking us would hardly be fair (this is where MAD falls flat). It would be much better to ensure that they can't nuke the US. There are two ways to do that--a first strike, or anti-ballistic missile technology. Which do you prefer?

    As for suitcase nukes, those would necessarily be low-yield, and there are quite possibly already measures in place to detect those.
  • I agree - the only justifications made seem to be thinly veiled chest beating. I can't grasp the tactical advantage. Consider:

    ICBM technology is every bit as difficult to develope as the nuclear warhead it carries. The result is that "Rogue Nations" (excluding the USA) often get the nuke before the ICBM.
    Terrorists, on the other hand, are likely to only be able to get their hands on the nuke, not ICBMs.
    Regardless of whether you have ICBMs or not, to bomb the USA, a suitcase makes an infinitely better delivery system for a rogue state or terrorist.

    So what is the tactical effect of the shield? It renders null and void the "Nuclear Deterrant" capabilities of the nuclear powers, yet doesn't affect the terrorists or rogue states.

    Hold on a minute - but if Russia or China are suddenly looking at a foreign nuclear power that has deliberately neutralised their nuclear defence (deterrance - M.A.D.), or even attempted to do so, they would be insane to not develope a new nuclear defence. (In their place, Americans would demand nothing less, and probably a lot more.)

    So the USA will then discover that China is developing missiles specifically designed to penetrate the USA missile shield. Insert paranoia - What possible reason could China be doing that unless they intended to use those missiles against the USA? We are in Imminent Danger! Action Must Be Taken!

    Can you see where this is going?

    And through all of it, the terrorists and rogue states have a delivery system that penetrates the shield with ease.

    What utter idiocy.
    The reason behind the shield, as comes across in public advocacy seems to be a need for patriotic military wanking off in the knowledge that "We're The Greatest!" and the arguments just window dressing for an unspoken desire to have solid In-Your-Face proof of how great we are.
    Do the people advocating it even care about NPTs? They genuinely don't seem to give a rat's ass (though they claim otherwise). Scary.

    Ye shall reap what ye sow.
    Except when it comes to nukes, it's more like we (innocent civilians) reap what they sow.

    If a shield won't stop terrorist nukes, what will? Telling the CIA (and others) to stop creating the terrorists in the first place by fu(king people over would be a nice start.
    While it massages the ego to think that terrorists or rogue nations hate you because they envy your wealth and power, in the real world beyond hollywood, tit-for-tat is the motive.
  • If a terrorist or some "rogue nation" - the State Departments current euphemism of the month - really wanted to nail the states, they'd carry over a 15lb nuke in a backpack and take out half of LA.

    Heck, put in on a boat in the harbor of any major coastal city, and you can make it a LOT bigger. Take out all of New York, or DC/Baltimore. You don't need any special knowledge or even much cleverness.

    Robert Heinlein outlined just this possibility back in a short story in the 50's. Some Americans were hubric about nuclear attack, because it was thought that ICBMs were impossible and any aircraft would just be shot down.


  • I think the LAST thing we need is for enemies to have a reason to start classifying passenger liners as "potential threats". Fire one or two blasts at, say, Iraq from a Boeing, and I'm sure they'll start to feel damn nervous whenever a passenger liner from the US enters their airspace.

    It's bad enough that it *does* actually happen now and again that passenger liners are destroyed after being mistakenly classified as military threats. One of the more famous such incidents (I can't remember the name of the flight, but they did make a movie about it) there is *still* speculation that the cause involved the US military putting spy cameras on passenger liners in the hopes that they could do spying without being shot down, if it was the case they were wrong. That was just spy cameras. Imagine huge laser cannons. Nobody will know anymore if a passenger liner is a threat or not, so they'll just destroy them for good measure, like they did with abovementioned incident (IIRC the plane was flying *incorrectly* over Russian military airspace, nobody has been able to adequately explain why the plane went there at all.)

  • So, the premise was good but because of a quirk in the input data, the neural net was incorrectly trained. This doesn't mean it can't be trained correctly, just that you have to provide good input data

    And that's the problem: how do you provide good input data? How do you train the net? There's precious little research in extracting from a neural net exactly what rules it is using to make its decision. If you can't know what rules it is using, then you can't trust it's "opinions." It might have learned cloudy sky/clear sky or it might have learned good guy plane/bad guy plane. You won't know until it's too late.


  • by BluedemonX ( 198949 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @01:12PM (#511338)
    use whatever part of the plane is responsible for destroying the luggage, and aim that at oncoming missiles? Much more damaging, without the costly R+D.

    Actually, the threat of deploying 5,000 Minnesota-St.Paul's baggage handlers (the ones who think that US mail is made by Spalding) would be enough to make any of these lunatic rogue nations think twice.

    It's worked before - Thatcher threatened once to deploy 10,000 medium-range Millwall soccer fans and that stopped a potential armed conflict right there.
  • Yes and the good (?) thing about water attacks is that they kick up a whole bunch of... you guessed it, water. Given proper wind direction this would create a deadly cloud of radioactive steam which could conceivably move hundreds of miles inland and do even more damage. Khrushchev supposedly was presented with a plan in the early 60s that would essentially create a doomsday device using this principle. Even he didn't have the balls to do it, but basically it involved filling the whole bottom of a oil tanker with plutonium or uranium and parking it at sea. In essence you've just created the largest nuclear bomb in the history of the world. Detonating it supposedly would kick up enough radioactive water vapor to kill everything on the planet. Luckily he was having an unusually good day, so I guess he didn't sign off on it.

  • Atmospheric refraction really shouldn't be a problem. All you have to do is look at the target in the same wavelength that your laser emits. Any refraction the laser beam will suffer will also happen to the light reflecting off of or being emitted by the target, so you just fire where the image is.

    As for scattering, I think I remember reading (quite some time ago, could have been in Popular Science) that the chemical laser emits in the near-infra-red range, circa 1000nm. At that wavelength, water does very little scattering.

    As for the ionization and mirror alignment problems, they must have convinced Congress they were solved. What that really means is anyone's guess.

  • by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:16AM (#511343) Homepage
    "During todays first test of the laser weilding 747, a freak accident occured and the DOJ headquarters was turned into a raging inferno..."
  • Or vice versa..

    Could be VERY bad if a Passenger-Carrying 747 was mistaken for a military unit -- likely VERY similar radar fingerprints, etc.
  • One thing the article didn't mention was range, which I was told would be 120-150 miles.

    Flying or shooting? The latter would be pretty impressive, the former would make it barely worth taking off. I'm assuming you mean "can hit a target at 120-150 miles", and not "can fly on patrol for 120-150 miles"....

  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @03:30PM (#511360) Homepage Journal

    These are all very good ideas/questions, and I wish to comment on them. But keep in mind I'm just a nerd following the news as it happens, not a scientist working behind the scenes.

    1. The laser could be depoyed indefinitely to the region of conflict at lower cost.

    Not neccessarily. A 747 is very expensive, but a boat big enough and fast enough to carry the laser and still fulfill the mission is probably almost as expensive. Further more, a boat probably isn't the best choice strategically, as I'll point out below. (Note however that my expertise is limited to aircraft, not ships. Don't take it as a bias, though. :P)

    2. It would also allow the laser to fire while the missile was still slow, full of fuel, and very close to the ground.

    Perhaps, but bear in mind that one of the key points of the "airborne" laser is that the missle can be shot down at any point of its trajectory, preferably high up in the atmosphere near its apex, or over the territory of the ones who launched it if such action were justified. An aircraft is probably the preferred vehicle because they can go literally anywhere on the earth's surface (with a ship, you'd be limited to the launch sites that happen to be relatively close to the coast), and they are at least an order of magnitude faster than ships.

    3. The larger payload of a ship would allow the laser to be much more powerful than one deployed on a 747.

    Very right, but the laser that will be installed on the 747 is already the largest laser in the world. There is the issue of practicality. You may be able to have a higher powered laser on a ship capable of destroying a missle 500 miles away (versus the Airborne Laser's 200), but you run the risk of not getting there on time or at all.

    4. The cost and risk of deploying 747s to a theater of operations could be prohibitive.

    That's never stopped the Air Force before. :P But seriously, there is always going to be a risk when deploying to an area of escalated conflict. I'd say that the loss of one or two 747's, their technology, and their crew fully justifies defending against the loss of a good chunk of our populace to nuclear attack or biological agents.

    1. Would a big, slow ship be more vulnerable to counterattack than a big, slow 747?

    Speaking relatively, I'd say a ship would be MUCH slower and therefore vulnerable to attack than a 747. Airplanes can attack ships effectively and ships can attack ships effectively, but the only thing that can attack airplanes effectively is airplanes. (If that made much sense...)

    2. Would water vapor present at the surface diffract the beam so much it became unusable? For that matter, what about inclement weather?

    Good question... I'm inclined to believe that things on the surface such as water vapour and weather would lessen the power of such a weapon. Whereas at high altitudes above the clouds, you let little else than clean and thin air.

    All that aside, putting a laser weapon system on a ship in the future could very well be a good strategy. Probably not for shooting down global-reach missles, but for shooting down enemy aircraft overhead (remember, lasers track quite well) or for attacking other ships.

    (Still need to find a way to get at those damn submarines!)
  • I'll take a guess. During the cold war the US developed a series of early warning satellites called Vela. The Vela satellites use infrared sensors to spot the thermal plume of a rocket taking off. It is extremely hot, fairly vertical, and very distinctive.
    Maybe this plane uses similar technology to identify missiles during launch.
    By the way, Vela and related technologies played a major role in anti-test treaties - they enabled the US and USSR to verify that the others weren't testing missiles.
  • So what happens when the computer makes a wrong decision?

    Well, "ding.wav" probably sounds, along with a popup "Fatal Error" message which lets you click only on OK, rebooting the plane.
  • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:17AM (#511370)
    Man, with one of these we could hold the world hostage for

    <pinky>one *million* dollars</pinky>
  • Many airlines have it actually on international flights. The new Airbus A340 has TV/computer on each seat. The Boeing 777 also (at least for Air France). I haven't seen US airlines do it, because they really like to screw their coach passengers. BTW the quality of service on US flights compared to other airlines is fucking horrible.

  • While I can sympathize with the discomfort that the system will fire itself, I don't think we are (yet) at the point where we should fear the technology. After all, there are still people deciding where the plane will fly and what the rules of engagement will be for the laser.

    This system is far more refined in its targeting capabilities than nuclear weapons. Nukes take out whole cities indiscriminately, this will only -- okay, it's designed to only -- take out missles and aircraft. Missles are obviously not civilian, so that only leaves the possibility of targeting the wrong aircraft. And since anyone flying a plane should know how to use the radio, there shouldn't be cases of civilians accidentally ending up in the path of an autonomous system.

    When someone decides to apply an AI to deciding what is a target to begin with, then we'll have gone too far.

  • I used to bullseye womp rats in beggar's canyon back home.. they're not much bigger than 2 meters.
  • I wonder if this thing is in the visible range? That amount of energy for that length of time is going to light up the sky if it is visible. Good job they can fly by instruments as they'll have to cover the cockpit windows.
  • This will not only be an excellent missile defense weapon (except for the fact that we'll have to keep at least several in the air 24x7 to make sure it's effective) - it will also be a great antisatellite weapon, as well as a very long range antiaircraft weapon, potentially untraceable.

    Watch for mysterious air crashes of commercial jets carrying high-level officials from other countrys soon. . .
  • by psychosis ( 2579 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:18AM (#511389)
    Not true - period. One word covers this: LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict)
    Since the aircraft will be a combatant vehicle, it will have to be CLEARLY marked with insignia showing that fact. It will have the ubiquitous "U.S. Air Force" on the side, star/stripe logo on the wings, etc, etc.
    Just realize that the Af has been flying commercial aircraft retrofitted to do other duty for years and years - most WWII cargo craft were McDonnell Douglas civilian carriers, and there are many incarnations of the 707-737 variety in service today.
    Not to mention that the large lens that is needed to make this platform a reality makes the nose bulge in an unmistakable way.
    BOttom line - don't worry. It's nothing new.
  • Somehow I feel as if we had posted this a while ago - no search found it. i do remember that this has been talked about for quite some time, tho'.

    You're right. It's been discussed since about 1985. [imdb.com]
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <robert.merkel@noSpaM.benambra.org> on Friday January 12, 2001 @10:43PM (#511397) Homepage
    And if the Chinese were *really* serious about invading Taiwan, a BMD system wouldn't deter them. All they need to do is smuggle in a couple - hell, make it a couple of dozen - nuclear weapons into the US, and politely inform the US of its intention to reclaim its "rogue province" and the fact that if the US interferes New York, DC, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and so on, will disappear off the face of the Earth.

    As for suitcase nuclear weapons being "low-yield", Hiroshima-style fission weapons were pretty low-yield, but they managed to kill about 100,000 people each, and detection is a joke. The US spends billions on interdicting drug smuggling, and misses approximately 90% of it. Puh-leeze!

    Look, the Chinese leadership may be made up of power-hungry barbarians, but they aren't stupid.

  • First, thanks, we all know what neutron bombs do.

    MAD doesn't work if one of the two parties is insane.

    Really? Then kindly explain to me why China has not launched a full-scale nuclear attack against the United States.

    Second, you know as well as I do that there definitely aren't measures in place to detect low-yield nuclear devices. What are they going to do, place a Geiger counter onn every street corner? Or are you so naive as to presume that the US really does control the flow of people into and out of this country, and hence what they bring into it as well? Apparently you do not live in the southern parts of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, or California, nor have you ever attempted to purchase drugs in the US.

    Third, somewhere in there the fact that missile defense isn't the only way to protect democratic nations from tyrannical hegemons seems to have been lost on you. You'll recall (I hope) that China has not in fact invaded Taiwan, thanks much in part to the hard diplomatic tack that the United States has taken against any and all aggressive movements from the former towards the latter. The same goes for Iraq and surrounding countries, post-Gulf war. NMD is just a diplomatic tool, and a flawed one at that. It's clear, to me, that the its costs - namely precipating a regression in foreign relations with Russa & China to pre-Cold War levels - far outweighs whatever benefits it might offer.


  • Somehow I'm not seeing how shooting down missiles, possibly missiles tipped with nuclear warheads and aimed at cities with millions of people, would ever be considered horrible, whether it's done by man or robot.

    That's because you're missing the point. Sure, on the surface, being able to shoot down possible missiles might be a good thing, but looking at the big picture, is it a good thing to damage other country's defences against nuclear attack (deterrence), resulting in them needing - for their own safety - to develope new missiles that you can't shoot down, thus reducing the lasers/shields/whatever to useless billion dollar money-burning exercises, and provoking fears in the USA that they are planning an attack (why else develope missiles specifically designed to penetrate the US's best defences?) resulting in the ante being upped once again...
    All this really becomes a problem when you consider how many trillions of dollars end up being wasted on an arms race that a) doesn't actually deliver any strategic advantage, and b) destabilises the world.

    Why not just burn the money - everyone ends up just as poor, but at least global stability isn't threatened. You'll be safer than having a shield in an unstable world.
  • by jfunk ( 33224 ) <jfunk@roadrunner.nf.net> on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:28AM (#511419) Homepage
    A very good history of laser beams can be found at http://students.washington.edu/jboyd/laser.htm [washington.edu].

    I believe you will find it informative and of relevance to this story.
  • by Yo_mama ( 72429 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:28AM (#511422) Homepage
    a couple different reasons why they won't have to. Ballistic missiles follow a parabolic course... a great arc to get maximum range. It's a signature that the computer can pick up. Most planes fly straight and level or at constant rates of climb, decent, etc. and can be filtered out. Also the ballistic missiles are shapped the way they are for max range, lowest cost, etc. No one is going to make a missile to spoof a radar into thinking it's a supersonic piper cub at 80,000 feet, maybe decrease it's signature so that it's harder to spot; but then again these things get so hot and throw out so much heat a lot of the detection is done thermally anyway.

    Now, if they start wanting to use it on planes as well they're going to have to really watch it and make sure the computer can pick out the right guy or gal!)... sometimes the IFF (Identify friend or Foe) doesn't work or is turned off to lower the aircraft's emissions.
  • by brassrat77 ( 9533 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:22AM (#511435)
    USAF has been working on airborne laser concepts for years as part of various theatre and strategic missile defense projects. The 747 is a good platform for this - lots of payload capacity (power generation for the laser) and plenty of duration to loiter in a threat area.

    But don't think this is going to be a "Battlestar Gallactica" with wings. The plane is going to be one great big high-value target. It will need escort fighters, tankers to refuel the fighters, maybe an AWACS to manage things,... you get the idea. Then there needs to be a ground base to maintain the laser system, housing for the technicians, facilities.... Multiply by the number of aircraft necessary to provide 24x7 defense of an area and you begin to get an idea of the difference between a one-off technology demonstration and a real weapon system.

  • by IronChef ( 164482 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:22AM (#511446)

    On the contrary, it makes perfect sense. There are just some times when the military needs a couple of gigawatts of directed energy in a self-propelled package! If we had a couple of these in the Gulf War, we probably would have done better shooting down SCUDs. That's the sort of thing these are made for -- theater missile defense.

    This weapons platform isn't made for popping fighter planes or tanks. I'm sure it could be re-tasked to that if they wanted. That would be an interesting battlefield...

    The CNN article is quite good. It pulls together facts that I have in the past seen scattered all over, or that I had to get from the ABL guys when I met them at an air show. And when it talks about a fleet of these things -- they are serious. They will test a couple of prototypes, and if they work out, they'll build like 20 of them, according to the guy I talked to and the flyer he gave me.

    One thing the article didn't mention was range, which I was told would be 120-150 miles. Whoop! I want one.

  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Friday January 12, 2001 @09:32AM (#511469) Homepage Journal

    I am an enlisted member of the Air Force and first wish to note that I am not a member or participant of this project. I have no affiliation with it whatsoever. However, it is interesting use of technology to me and I've been following it very closely.

    The official website: Airborne Laser [airbornelaser.com].

    To be blunt, this isn't new news. It's been in design for a couple years now and they're just now getting ready to test fly the actual aircraft with the laser onboard pretty soon now. It's undergoing preliminary testing at the base I'm currently stationed at. (Kirtland AFB, NM)

    The slashdotter's concern that a computer controls the laser should come as a surprise to no one. Almost every part of every aircraft and space vehicle is controlled primary by computers, to include weapons systems.

    Perhaps there is the concern that this plane will go up, fly itself, and indiscriminately shoot down whatever it finds. That is bull. It will be flown by experienced pilots with expertly trained individuals operating the laser weapon systems. The computer *has* to be the one to "pull the trigger" because the calculations are far to numerous for humans to do. But the computer is always being operated by a person.

    How it works is rather interesting. The crew first receives news of a missle launch somehow and it's approximate coordinates. The fly to the approximate area of the missle and try to identify it. Based on the type of missle it is, the computer picks out a specific spot to fire the high-powered laser at on the missle, (such as the fuel tank) to ensure its destruction. A tracking laser locks on to the missle while the high powered laser fires and destroys the missle within seconds. This is, of course, greatly simplified.

    Hemos noted that this hasn't appeared on slashdot before.. that's partially correct. It's never been an actual story, but the conversation has come up many times before in the comments where discussion has been on the topic of US defense against global weapons. I know I've mentioned the airborne laser at least once to prove my point.

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman