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Story from the ONR's Science and Technology Conference

bobbymike

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From Danger Room Blog:

The Navy keep pouring money into high-tech ships, next-gen communications gear — even a “death ray” pre-prototype. But if the sea service can’t get costs for the new gear under control, it’s putting itself at risk.

That was the message from Robert Work, the undersecretary of the Navy, to the opening of the Office of Naval Research’s annual science and technology conference in Arlington, Virginia, where the Navy and its contractors are showing off some of their most far-out designs. Work, a longtime defense wonk, is a big fan of all of those efforts, calling the research shop the “incubator for discovery, research and innovation” that’s kept the Navy and Marine Corps more tech-savvy than its rivals. But, he added, “the secretary and I consider cost a threat.”

Work meant two things by that. First, in a literal sense, the cost of maintaining the Navy’s 280 ships is growing at a rate faster than inflation. That’s not an auspicious sign for growing the fleet to its planned 313 ships, even as it takes unexpected cost-constraining measures like buying competing designs of its close-in fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship. “If the [scientific and technological] community cannot help us address total ownership cost,” Work said, “we will quickly find ourselves with a fleet too small” for the Navy’s worldwide missions.

But the threat is also about the way the Navy’s potential adversaries are finding cheap ways to blunt its dominance. The proliferation of precision-guided munitions is a huge challenge for the Navy — one of the reasons that the Navy spends so much time talking about “anti-access/area denial” challenges, in which cheap, accurate rockets and missiles keep warships at bay. In a case that the U.S. military has studied at length, Hezbollah knocked an Israeli corvette out of service during the 2006 war using a radar-guided rocket, one of a few in the guerrilla group’s arsenal of unguided rockets and mortars. Work praised a joint U.S.-Israeli venture called David’s Sling, designed for “shooting down rockets, artillery and guided mortars,” adding, “That’s what we need to think about.”

But that also leads to some far-out technical efforts — few of which come cheap. Like lasers, for instance. It would be too expensive to use a guided munition to hit another guided munition, Work said, so the Navy is making “breakthroughs on directed energy.” Such as the Free Electron Laser, a multi-wavelength laser that the Navy wants to put aboard its ships to fry incoming rockets or missiles with 100 kilowatts of energy. It’s also developing an Electromagnetic Rail Gun that uses electromagnetic pulses to fire a big bullet into space at speeds of Mach 7 and then hurtling onto an enemy target at speeds of Mach 5. Rear Admiral Nevin Carr, the chief of naval research, said that prototypes of the rail gun generate 25 megajoules of energy, and a test next month will attempt 32 megajoules, getting a projectile traveling 100 nautical miles in six minutes — “well ahead of pace” for a target of 64 megajoules for a range of 200 miles in six minutes.

Both weapons have a lot of buzz at this conference; more on that in a subsequent post. “We all, of course, want the multi-megawatt death ray,” Carr said, confessing that he certainly does. But laser and electro-magnetic research can have other applications, like tracking incoming targets, not just shooting them down. After all, he said, the Navy needs “multimission” weapons if it’s going to have a prayer of keeping costs down.
 

yasotay

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I have wondered recently with all of the potential for directed energy and other means of dealing with guided munitions if we might not end up finding ourselves back in the battleship business. Perhaps not 16 inch behemoth guns, but more likely some smaller level of rail gun sending ballistic rounds hundreds(?) of miles in classic ship duals. Submarines might also continue to become even more important.
 

Nik

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Targetting...

Uh, IMHO, rail gun loads would have to be terminally guided smart-rocks with quite a lot of cross-range capacity to compensate for evasion tactics. This could lead to a premium on warship agility, such as fitting of bow thrusters or pod drives. I don't see how a really big ship could dodge otherwise...

Like missile-cruisers, a rail-gun ship is an egg-shell armed with mallet...
 

bobbymike

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The future is hypersonics for attack and speed of light for defense.
 

bobbymike

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Electron Laser News:

The Navy is increasingly excited about building a superpowerful laser to shoot down missiles and rockets that might attack its ships. But don’t expect the long-planned Free Electron Laser weapon to replace the guns the Navy stations on its ships — or to be shipboard for years. And definitely expect the laser to do more than just zap stuff out of the sky.

Sure, everyone wants a “death ray,” as the Navy’s chief of research, Rear Admiral Nevin Carr, put it yesterday. But the program manager at the Office of Naval Research for the Free Electron Laser, Quentin Saulter, tells Danger Room that the Navy is looking at “multiple uses, not a single use” for its “Holy Grail” of lasers. And that might lighten the laser’s energy burden.

What would the laser do when it’s not trying to blast a missile out of the sky? “It can be used as a sensor,” Saulter says in an interview during the Office of Naval Research’s science and technology conference in Virginia. “It can be used as a tracker… It can enable kinetic kill systems to be more precise. It can be used for location, time-of-flight location, information exchange, can be used for communications, it can be used for target designation, it can be used for disruption.”

Of course, spending hundreds of millions on another laser tracker might raise eyebrows. But this laser isn’t like others. All lasers work by using energy to charge atoms into generating and then focusing light, requiring a medium — some use crystals, others use chemicals — to filter that light into powerful beams along a particular wavelength. But the Free Electron Laser uses supercharged electron streams to operate along multiple wavelengths, making it more powerful.

Little wonder the Navy’s embarked on an open-ended, $163 million project to develop one into a weapon. Last September, it gave Boeing $26 million task order to develop a prototype design for the laser — the company completed a preliminary design in March — that’ll deliver by early 2012. If it works, the Navy will be on its way to a speed-of-light weapon aboard its ships that won’t have to reload, since it’ll rely on a ship’s energy source for powering up. Not a bad thing if you’re worried about a cruise missile slamming into your hull.

But that’s still a big if. Boeing’s design has to generate the 100 kilowatts of energy generally considered to be military grade. The Free Electron Laser at the Department of Energy’s Jefferson Lab in Virginia generates only 14 kilowatts. Particles in the air like condensation can reduce the potency of even a free-electron laser — and there’s a lot of condensation in sea air. And 100 kilowatts is pretty much the entry level to weaponize a free-electron laser. It’s going to need a lot more power to take down powerful projectiles like the huge “carrier killer anti-ship ballistic missile the Chinese are developing. And how much power will it require from ships, especially now that the Navy leadership is trying to get half its energy from alternative fuels by 2020?

Saulter isn’t sweating it. “All lasers are inefficient users of energy,” he says. Right now, the model at use at Jefferson uses an oscillator, with energy stored up in its cavity, and runs at 10 percent efficiency. He’s “99.99 percent confident” the Free Electron Laser can get to 100 kilowatts: Boeing will have to improve efficiency or pump ten times more power into it. The same applies to scale up its energy output.

That should be an easy energy burden to shoulder, Saulter figures. “One Naval generator, on all the ships they’re planning on building in their more-electric fleet capacity, can put up to two megawatts of power,” he continues. “Of course, the Navy plans on having more than one generator on its vessels… 100 kilowatts is not a power constraint for a naval weapons system for an FEL. It is something that is doable today for a hundred-kilowatt system.”

But use the laser for something other than burning a missile out of the sky, and the required energy dose drops. “Being that there are multiple different types of ways to protect” a ship — using the laser as a targeting system for on-board guns or a sensor, for instance — “means that not all things require 100 kilowatts. Maybe some of those waves only require 1 kilowatt. Maybe some of those waves only require only 50 watts.”

Development is to take place at Boeing’s directed-energy labs in Albuquerque, with additional research taking place at the national laboratories at Argonne, Los Alamos and Brookhaven; the Naval Postgraduate School; Yale and other locations. It’ll be years before shipboard tests can even take place, let alone getting it out into the fleet.

But for now, the Office of Naval Research wants you to stop thinking of the laser as just a zapper. “If you were to develop a car, you would want your car to go from zero to 100,” Saulter says. “You wouldn’t want to turn your car on and immediately go to 100… The way that we think of defense and protecting our people is to have layers of capability to ensure the protection of our people before we ask them to go into harm’s way.” He pauses, grinning. “We still want the car to go to 100, though.”
 

bobbymike

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This is potentially huge :eek:

US Navy Achieves Milestone in Free Electron Laser Program

Scientists at Los Alamos National Lab in Los Alamos, N.M., have achieved a remarkable breakthrough with the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) Free Electron Laser (FEL) program, setting the stage for a preliminary design review scheduled Jan. 20-21 in Virginia.

Researchers demonstrated an injector capable of producing the electrons needed to generate megawatt-class laser beams for the Navy's next-generation weapon system Dec. 20, months ahead of schedule. "The injector performed as we predicted all along," said Dr. Dinh Nguyen, senior project leader for the FEL program at the lab. "But until now, we didn't have the evidence to support our models. We were so happy to see our design, fabrication and testing efforts finally come to fruition. We're currently working to measure the properties of the continuous electron beams, and hope to set a world record for the average current of electrons."

Quentin Saulter, FEL program manager for ONR, said the implications of the FEL's progress are monumental. "This is a major leap forward for the program and for FEL technology throughout the Navy," said Saulter. "The fact that the team is nine months ahead of schedule provides us plenty of time to reach our goals by the end of 2011." The research is a necessary step for the Department of the Navy to one day deploy the megawatt-class FEL weapon system, revolutionizing ship defense.

"The FEL is expected to provide future U.S. naval forces with a near-instantaneous laser ship defense in any maritime environment throughout the world," said Saulter. ONR's FEL project began as a basic science and technology program in the 1980s and matured into a working 14-kilowatt prototype. In fiscal 2010, it graduated from basic research to an innovative naval prototype, earning the backing needed by senior Navy officials to ensure its evolution to advanced technology and potential acquisition.

The laser works by passing a beam of high-energy electrons generated by an injector, through a series of strong magnetic fields, causing an intense emission of laser light. ONR hopes to test the FEL in a maritime environment as early as 2018. ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
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bobbymike

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NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia — Walking into a control station at Jefferson Labs, Quentin Saulter started horsing around with his colleague, Carlos Hernandez. Saulter had spent the morning showing two reporters his baby: the laboratory version of the Navy’s death ray of the future, known as the free-electron laser, or FEL. He asked Hernandez, the head of injector- and electron-gun systems for the project, to power a mock-up electron gun — the pressure-pumping heart of this energy weapon — to 500 kilovolts. No one has ever cranked the gun that high before.

Smiling through his glasses and goatee, Hernandez motioned for Saulter to click and drag a line on his computer terminal up to the 500-kV mark. He had actually been running the electron injector at that kilovoltage for the past eight hours. It’s a goal that eluded him for six years.

Saulter, the program manager for the free-electron laser, was momentarily stunned. Then he realized what just happened. “This is very significant,” he says, still a bit shocked. Now, the Navy “can speed up the transition of FEL-weapons-system technology” from a Virginia lab to the high seas.

Translated from the Nerd: Thanks to Hernandez, the Navy will now have a more powerful death ray aboard a future ship sooner than expected, in order to burn incoming missiles out of the sky or zap through an enemy vessel’s hull.

“Five hundred [kilovolts] has been the project goal for a long time,” says George Neil, the FEL associate director at Jefferson Labs, whose Rav 4 license plate reads LASRMAN. “The injector area is one of the critical areas” of the whole project.

The free-electron laser is one of the Navy’s highest-priority weapons programs, and it’s not hard to see why. “We’re fast approaching the limits of our ability to hit maneuvering pieces of metal in the sky with other maneuvering pieces of metal,” says Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, the Navy’s chief of research. The next level: “fighting at the speed of light and hypersonics” — that is, the free-electron laser and the Navy’s Mach-8 electromagnetic rail gun.

Say goodbye to an adversary’s antiship missiles, and prepare to fire bullets from 200 miles away, far from shoreline defenses. No wonder the Navy asked Congress to double its budget for directed-energy weapons this week to $60 million, most of which will go to the free-electron laser.

It won’t be until the 2020s, Carr estimates, that a free-electron laser will be mounted on a ship. (Same goes for the rail gun.) Right now, the free-electron laser produces a 14-kilowatt beam. It needs to get to 100 kilowatts to be viable to defend a ship, the Navy thinks. But what happened at Jefferson Labs Friday shrinks the time necessary to get to 100 kilowatts and expands the lethality of the laser. Here’s why.

All lasers start off as atoms that get agitated into becoming photons, light that’s focused through some kind of medium, like chemicals or crystals, into a beam operating on a particular wavelength. But the free-electron laser is unique: It doesn’t use a medium, just supercharged electrons run through a racetrack of superconductors and magnets — an accelerator, to be technical — until it produces a beam that can operate on multiple wavelengths.

That means the beam from the free-electron laser won’t lose potency as it runs through all the crud in ocean air, because its operators will be able to adjust its wavelengths to compensate. And if you want to make it more powerful, all you need to do is add electrons.

But to add electrons, you need to inject pressure into your power source, so the electrons shake out and run through the racetrack. That’s done through a gun called an injector. In the basement of a building in Jefferson Labs, a 240-foot racetrack uses a 300-kilovolt injector to pressurize the electrons out of 200 kilowatts of power and send them shooting through the accelerator.

Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.

And that’s why Hernandez’s achievement is so important. He shrugs, concealing his pride. A powerful accelerator at Cornell University is “stuck at 250″ kilovolts, he grins. And he’s on a roll. Hernandez’s team fired up the injector in December with enough pressure to prove the FEL will ultimately reach megawatt class. Steel: Beware.
 

Skybolt

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How thick is the metal and ablative on the warhead of an ICBM ? If a MW laser can cut through 600 meters of steel per second, to slice an ICBM warhead would require stay on target for, say, some milliseconds... Star Wars II incoming ? And mirror polished armour ?
 

sferrin

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bobbymike said:
Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.
I can't help but wonder if this is actually saying something different than what it looks like. A KE dart from an M1 Abrams has roughly 10 MJ energy (roughly that order of magnitude anyway - Abe could probably clarify). That's the equivalant of TEN million watts per second and it doesn't come anywhere near 20 feet of penetration in steel, let alone two THOUSAND feet.
 

bobbymike

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sferrin said:
bobbymike said:
Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.
I can't help but wonder if this is actually saying something different than what it looks like. A KE dart from an M1 Abrams has roughly 10 MJ energy (roughly that order of magnitude anyway - Abe could probably clarify). That's the equivalant of TEN million watts per second and it doesn't come anywhere near 20 feet of penetration in steel, let alone two THOUSAND feet.
A long time ago (so I could be wrong any DEW scientists or engineers at SP to help?) I think I read somewhere that a FEL laser doesn't "burn through" steel or other materials in a traditional sense but the electrons push their way through to get to the electronics and stuff and destroy those. Yet it is still called a "burn through" in "laser jargon."

That is the two very appealing things about it; 1) can be tuned to most/all atmospheric conditions and 2) no materials can stop it cause everything is filled with electrons. Power and therefore range was the issue, so if that is solved then soon we will hear the Emperor, I mean President say, "Now (insert countries name here) you'll see the power of our fully operational Free Electron Laser." :D

What I'm waiting for is the "Gamma Ray Annihilation Laser" which one scientist compared to current lasers as a stick of dynamite to an atomic bomb.
 

DSE

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One thing to remember about an FEL is that unlike glass, dye or gas lasers they are tunable over a very wide range of wavelengths. To understand the interaction with a surface you need to know what wavelength is being talked about.
 

flateric

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Skybolt said:
And mirror polished armour ?
already SS-18 Mod 4 had a mirror polished coating beneath external layers
 

mz

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bobbymike said:
sferrin said:
bobbymike said:
Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.
I can't help but wonder if this is actually saying something different than what it looks like. A KE dart from an M1 Abrams has roughly 10 MJ energy (roughly that order of magnitude anyway - Abe could probably clarify). That's the equivalant of TEN million watts per second and it doesn't come anywhere near 20 feet of penetration in steel, let alone two THOUSAND feet.
A long time ago (so I could be wrong any DEW scientists or engineers at SP to help?) I think I read somewhere that a FEL laser doesn't "burn through" steel or other materials in a traditional sense but the electrons push their way through to get to the electronics and stuff and destroy those. Yet it is still called a "burn through" in "laser jargon."

That is the two very appealing things about it; 1) can be tuned to most/all atmospheric conditions and 2) no materials can stop it cause everything is filled with electrons. Power and therefore range was the issue, so if that is solved then soon we will hear the Emperor, I mean President say, "Now (insert countries name here) you'll see the power of our fully operational Free Electron Laser." :D

What I'm waiting for is the "Gamma Ray Annihilation Laser" which one scientist compared to current lasers as a stick of dynamite to an atomic bomb.
It's a technique to generate the beam. Once the photons are on the way, it doesn't matter where the beam came from, the effects will be similar at the receiving end.
Of course things depend on wavelength, power, coherence but you get the drift.
 

bobbymike

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flateric said:
Skybolt said:
And mirror polished armour ?
already SS-18 Mod 4 had a mirror polished coating beneath external layers
No help against a free electron laser from what I've read as it interacts with the electrons in any material not the molecular material itself. That's why they say it is the "golden BB" of DEW there really are few counter-measures.
 

collins355

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sferrin said:
bobbymike said:
Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.
I can't help but wonder if this is actually saying something different than what it looks like. A KE dart from an M1 Abrams has roughly 10 MJ energy (roughly that order of magnitude anyway - Abe could probably clarify). That's the equivalant of TEN million watts per second and it doesn't come anywhere near 20 feet of penetration in steel, let alone two THOUSAND feet.
Err. 10MJ is already about 30 percent above the hottest modern APFSDS rounds.
 

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bobbymike said:
No help against a free electron laser from what I've read as it interacts with the electrons in any material not the molecular material itself. That's why they say it is the "golden BB" of DEW there really are few counter-measures.
Huh ??? Care to translate that? An FEL is still a laser beam. There's nothing magick about it, and it "interacts with the electrons in any material" no more or less than any other laser beam of similar frequency. If you can reflect part of the beam energy away from the target (using "mirror armor"), then you reduce the amount of energy absorbed, and hence the damage done by said beam.

Where the FEL may have an advantage is in the fact that you can, at least theoretically, adjust the frequency of the generated beam and thus adapt it to the particular target you are engaging. In effect dialing up the frequency that gives you the maximum damage.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
 

bobbymike

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Lauge said:
bobbymike said:
No help against a free electron laser from what I've read as it interacts with the electrons in any material not the molecular material itself. That's why they say it is the "golden BB" of DEW there really are few counter-measures.
Huh ??? Care to translate that? An FEL is still a laser beam. There's nothing magick about it, and it "interacts with the electrons in any material" no more or less than any other laser beam of similar frequency. If you can reflect part of the beam energy away from the target (using "mirror armor", then you reduce the amount of energy absorbed, and hence the damage done by said beam.

Where the FEL may have an advantage is in the fact that you can, at least theoretically, adjust the frequency of the generated beam and thus adapt it to the particular target you are engaging. In effect dialing up the frequency that gives you the maximum damage.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
Yes you're right my explanation was unclear cause I am trying to translate from the scientific to me the layman to words. I was more describing the vary large tunable range that can make, in theory, any surface transparent to a FEL (if that makes sense).

There was a National Academy Press book on FEL's and other advanced sources of light from awhile back but again I apologize because I don't have the scientific background to adequately interpret.

Here is a good source of downloadable FEL information and a good general article on FELs.

http://www.pdfgeni.com/book/free-electron-laser-pdf.html
http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/oct252004/1066.pdf
 

Lauge

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bobbymike said:
.......that can make, in theory, any surface transparent to a FEL (if that makes sense).
It does ;) Although I'm not sure about "transparent" for any surface, unless you're talking monster frequencies like X-rays or gamma rays. In theory, an FEL can produce these as well, but the energy input needed to do so (to say nothing of waste heat) probably puts these firmly in the "Sci-Fi Death Ray" category, at least for the foreseeable future.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
 

starviking

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Lauge said:
bobbymike said:
.......that can make, in theory, any surface transparent to a FEL (if that makes sense).
It does ;) Although I'm not sure about "transparent" for any surface, unless you're talking monster frequencies like X-rays or gamma rays. In theory, an FEL can produce these as well, but the energy input needed to do so (to say nothing of waste heat) probably puts these firmly in the "Sci-Fi Death Ray" category, at least for the foreseeable future.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
Perhaps what is being referenced is the ability to tune the FEL to a more destructive wavelength for a given surface to be attacked. To give a basic (but silly) example - grass is green because chlorophyll absorbs red light, so if you had to hit grassistan hard you'd tune your FEL to the red area of the spectrum. There's no reason this would not hold for other materials.
 

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sferrin said:
bobbymike said:
Currently, the free-electron laser project produces the most-powerful beam in the world, able to cut through 20 feet of steel per second. If it gets up to its ultimate goal, of generating a megawatt’s worth of laser power, it’ll be able to burn through 2,000 feet of steel per second. Just add electrons.
I can't help but wonder if this is actually saying something different than what it looks like. A KE dart from an M1 Abrams has roughly 10 MJ energy (roughly that order of magnitude anyway - Abe could probably clarify). That's the equivalant of TEN million watts per second and it doesn't come anywhere near 20 feet of penetration in steel, let alone two THOUSAND feet.
The figures are not a demonstration of penetration DEPTH but a demonstration of poor journalism. It says the LENGTH of steel plate that can be cut per second, but without specifying the thickness it is an utterly USELESS figure of merit. With nanometer thick sheet steel - if possible - I bet you could cut two thousand MILES of steel sheet per second, if you could deliver it at that speed.
 

DSE

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Simon666 said:
The figures are not a demonstration of penetration DEPTH but a demonstration of poor journalism.
Wired's Danger Room in general and Ackerman specifically demonstrates poor journalism. You are kidding, right? :D
 

dannydale

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DSE said:
Simon666 said:
The figures are not a demonstration of penetration DEPTH but a demonstration of poor journalism.
Wired's Danger Room in general and Ackerman specifically demonstrates poor journalism. You are kidding, right? :D
I had a feeling that's what it was the moment I saw the headline and it came across as 'LAZOR burn 20ft of sttel in a sacod LULZ!!!11~' :D
 
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