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Old 01-04-2005, 11:27 AM   #1
Morgeruat
Jack Burton
 

Join Date: October 16, 2001
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I like reading about the newest toys, and thought I'd share this one. The link has photos as well as the article.

Link Here

Imagine a mobile laser that can take out incoming missiles with ease -- up to 60 of them at a time. Dream no more, as a project under development is out to prove that a mobile laser anti-missile system not only a cool proposition, but an economical one.


Artist's conception of the Mobile/Tactile High Energy Laser (Northrop Grumman).


We haven't arrived at the Star Wars era of warriors running about with lasers in hand, dealing out mayhem left and right -- slowly but surely, though, laser weapons are gaining their legs. In a previous issue we took a look at the Airborne Laser (ABL), an ambitious project allowing moving aircraft to shoot down missiles. And now Northrop Grumman, in conjunction with the IMD (Israel Ministry of Defense), is developing its own ambitious $89 million program -- the Mobile/ Tactile High Energy Laser (MTHEL), designed to destroy short-ranged artillery rockets and cannon shells. Based on the stationary High Energy Laser (HEL) system, the $275 million dollar MTHEL program is intended to take the stationary HEL and put it on wheels, which would allow it to reposition itself to counter mobile threats. Put it all together and it adds up to some serious mobile firepower.

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Responding to Threats

The genesis of the MTHEL system comes from a very direct and real threat -- terrorist attacks by Hezbollah guerillas on Israel's border. For two decades, the Hezbollah have inflicted damage by firing unguided Katyusha rockets, with a range of about 20 kilometers, at Israeli towns. The sheer number of attacks and the Katyusha rockets' ballistic trajectories meant that Israel couldn't use advanced machine guns against them.

The solution: a high-energy laser that could dispose of the threat of low-flying missile, but at a minimal cost. The prototype laser for the project, the Nautilus, made its first big splash in February 1996, when it took out a short-range rocket at a test site in New Mexico -- the first time a laser had destroyed a ballistic missile.

The THEL, which is planned to be operational and ready for deployment by 2007, features four major components: the command center, a fire control radar, a pointer-tracker, and the high energy laser itself. The command center manages the detection, tracking, and destruction of incoming targets, and is run by a two-man crew: a commander and a gunner.


The heart of the THEL system: The Nautilus laser (Northrop Grumman).


At the heart of the MTHEL system is the Nautilus 100Kw deuterium fluoride flowing gas laser. Designated Nautilus, the laser itself is a proven system, having destroyed numerous Soviet-style 122mm Katyusha rockets during testing in 2000 and artillery shells in 2002. The Nautilus functions in a manner very similar to that of the megawatt-class COIL (Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser) Airborne Laser that is being developed for destroying theater-range ballistic missiles. It focuses a high-energy deuterium-fluoride (DF) laser beam, which is created by mixing fluorine atoms with helium and deuterium to generate DF in an excited state. The beam is small -- only a few inches in diameter -- but it can heat steel over 200 yards away.


Taking out an enemy missile: The laser heats the nose of the incoming missile (see white spot in top photo), the heat causes the missile's warhead to explode (middle photo), and the remainder of the missile falls harmlessly (bottom photo).


In the HEL, $3,000 worth of gaseous chemicals (that might sound like a lot of money, but it's cheap compared to most anti-missile weapons) are mixed to produce photon emitting ionized atoms, which are in turn, collected and amplified, before being directed at the target. The laser destroys the target rocket by heating the fuel storage tank, or by heating the warhead case (in the case of artillery shells or solid fuel rockets). Target acquisition is initially accomplished with a fire control radar that spots the inbound rocket, and then begins tracking it, sending this data to the MTHEL optical PTS (Pointer-Tracker Subsystem).

So what would be a standard situation for this laser? An enemy rocket is launched, and is detected by the THEL fire control radar, which compiles trajectory information about the incoming rocket, then hands over the target to the pointer-tracker subsystem, which includes the beam director. The PTS tracks the target, The PTS initially acquires the target optically, and then "fine tunes" its aim to provide a precise aiming point for the primary laser. Once the PTS has designated the HEL aiming point, the laser fires. The intense heat causes the target's warhead to explode far short of its objective -- scratch one enemy missile.

The THEL isn't just a one-shot deal, either -- it can fire 60 shots before requiring a reload. At a per-kill cost of $3,000, it is easily one of the cheapest anti-missile systems around.

The Road Ahead

Much like the ABL, the MTHEL has a number of very real obstacles to overcome. First and foremost is weight. With a range of only 5 miles (because of air density, particle content in the air, and overall efficiency of the chemical laser process), to be effective, the MTHEL must be mobile, and to be mobile, the system must be light (relatively speaking; initial design goals are looking for the entire system to be transported in three 20 ton semi-trailers). This weight reduction requires an order of magnitude efficiency increase in the laser's efficiency (which would allow for a smaller, lighter laser to be used), as well as improvements in auxiliary system power generation (low weight, high output liquid fuel turbines).

In addition to weight, another issue to be addressed by the MTHEL is heat buildup and dissipation. To produce a 100Kw laser beam, the system requires about 1 megawatt of input energy. This energy, delivered in such a rapid pulse, generates enormous amounts of thermal energy, which must be removed before the laser can be fired again. Northrop Grumman engineers have claimed to solve this problem with


The command center for the THEL.


Finally, further testing needs to done on how well the THEL responds to tougher targets. It has done exceptionally well against Katyusha test rockets (it has shot down 28 so far in tests) and test artillery shells, but it remains to be seen how well it can do against targets with higher speeds and trajectories. The initial results are promising, though: On May 4, 2004, the MTHEL tracked and destroyed a large-caliber test rocket that was capable of twice the range, achieved more than three times the altitude, and carried a much larger warhead than previous targets.

Northrop Grumman is confident that the system will have a working mobile laser by 2007. During 2003 tests, all five in-flight artillery projectiles were hit and destroyed, which was a first for a high energy weapon of this type and that the laser was able to track and hit the shells (viewed as the most challenging requirement given the shell's small size, low thermal signature, and hardened metal body), proof positive that the system works. Taking the laser on the road is the last step.
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Old 01-04-2005, 02:00 PM   #2
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Cool, bring on the Gua'uld (sp?) we'll show those snake heads what's what!
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Old 01-04-2005, 04:35 PM   #3
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Didn't they have one of these things in Command and Conquer?
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Old 01-04-2005, 04:45 PM   #4
Morgeruat
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That was an orbital laser, this is ground based. In red alert there was a similar tank that used sound waves to accomplish much the same thing.
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Old 01-04-2005, 05:03 PM   #5
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I can almost picture myself an army engineer saying to his collegues "Dudes, last night while I was playing Red Alert I got this great idea!".

[ 01-04-2005, 05:04 PM: Message edited by: Stratos ]
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