Gaza Shows Worth in Laser Missile Defense Systems

Gaza Shows Worth in Laser Missile Defense Systems

The success and the cost of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system proves the worth in developing laser missile defense systems, two analysts wrote in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend.

The Israelis spent about $3 million to shoot down a Hamas drone flown over the Gaza strip that cost maybe a few hundred dollars. The math just doesn’t add up, wrote Dave Majumdar, a freelance defense journalist and analyst, and Erik Schechter, a defense analyst.

The costs, in fact, make the case for increased investment in laser systems to knock drones and missiles out of the sky. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is developing a laser system similar to the Iron Dome call the Iron Beam.


It only costs a few bucks to fire a laser versus the expensive costs of advanced missiles. Lasers also have the convenience of not running out. Swarming is a serious threat for air defense systems, especially with cheap micro drones hitting the market. A swarm of these drones could easily overwhelm an air defense system armed with a limited number of missiles.

The authors make the point that this is not a new concept, but it’s one that has received quite a bit of scrutiny. Former President Ronald Reagan promised a Star Wars system that would protect the U.S. from Soviet Union nuclear missiles with a laser system in space. Of course, $30 billion invested and it still didn’t produce what Reagan had in mind.

And then there was the U.S. Air Force’s Airborne Laser. Until former Defense Secretary Bob Gates killed the program in 2007, the Air Force spent millions to develop a system on the premise of arming a fleet of cargo jets with laser systems in the nose constantly flying patrols to protect U.S. borders from ballistic missiles.

Developing missile defense systems is a complex business and one the Pentagon has struggled to master. But the Iron Dome has shown the importance of a missile defense system to protect from a series of missiles landing in Israel.

For the most part, the U.S. has a meager series of missile defense systems. Instead the country depends on its fleet of fighter aircraft and the threat of retaliation.

However, Majumdar and Schechter make the case that the time is now for the U.S. to start working to design its own laser missile defense system.

“The U.S. military could develop a 100-kilowatt laser-cannon defense system, capable of shooting down drones, short range rockets and mortar fire, in fewer than five years. Within a decade, the U.S. could have a far more powerful 300-kilowatt laser,” Majumdar and Schechter wrote.

“And when that happens, enemies who would buzz, bombard and otherwise swarm forward-deployed American personnel would find their weapons destroyed — literally — in a flash of light.”

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When laser anti-missile technology is fielded in significant numbers, knocking missiles down with a beamed pulse of narrow bandwidth very bright light, how long before we see proliferation of highly reflective polished chrome plated missiles?

Chrome missiles wouldn’t do the trick. You’d have to cover the outside with some sort of multi-faceied reflector.And any current tech. can’t do that without adversely affecting the aerodynamics of the missile.

Gold leaf is even better, very thin sheets are all thats needed.
Considering its a difficult task to hit a ballistic missile with a guided missile that has a proximity fuse. At least you can track your own missile or its got a radar in the nose cone, the laser beam can only be controlled from its source.

“For the most part, the U.S. has a meager series of missile defense systems”

Yeah, sure. The Navy says Hi.

Nonsense. What makes you think it would need facets, or be any other shape than it already is?

It need only be a shiney surface that does well at reflecting the wavelengths of interest. It doesn’t need to direct that light toward anything specific, just needs to reflect it off the surface rather than absorb it. And it only needs to do so for a long enough time interval to avoid excessive rise in temperature of the surface.

The counter to an attack with laser light is a reflective surface.

So, no one here knows how a laser works it would appear as they do not understand basic physics. Reflective coatings… Gold leaf. Ai, carumba! That works for exactly a singular laser beam frequency.

We are already building a 50kW laser. It is public knowledge, not even black box. Problem is, even at 50kW, it is only good for taking out drones or very slow flying airplanes. It could not take out even a single Rocket that Iron Dome takes out regularly. It uses multi spectrum frequency as well. That way power throughput is increased along with the guarantee that some frequency power of the laser will optimally interact with the materials of the object creating a thermal bloom. This laser will still take at least 10s of keeping its beam on a slow moving target to kill it. Is it a major step forward? Yes. Will it scale? Doubtful. Have a major problem with lensing. Solution may be throwaway one shot lenses. Of course this gets right back into major costs per shot when your lens in question has to effectively be made from diamond.

In short, we need a laser in the multi MEGAWatts for slower moving missiles/rockets and Multi GIGAWATTS for anti artillery weapon system along with TerraWatts throughput to deal with the bulk of a nuclear explosive inside a ballistic ICBM.

Of course Israel didn’t spend $3 million to shoot down a $100 model airplane, we did. And whether its 3 or 30 or 3000 million, the cost is insignificant when compared to the holocaust.

agree with oblatt22…lets avoid the “holocaust”

mines (including naval) are similar asymetric threats that take a whole lot of effort to mitigate. as long as the west values life more than those who would threaten us, cheap missiles will be used.

lasers i don’t know about. ‘would seem that power would have to be large in order (with persistence in ‘impact’ point) to affect a fast moving target in time to neutralize. If it was easy we would already be there (or someone who had the interest to be there — like the israeli’s!)

Nothing is 100% reflective, and anything highly reflective would not remain highly reflective after a trip through the atmosphere into space. As long as there’s a percentage of light that can’t be reflected, heat will be generated.

More questions than this brings answers. Can it be mobile? The heat this would make in generating energy for the weapon is enormous. And what if theirs a power failure. this is more tacti geek mind quest crap. Stay with Iron Dome. It works may cost alot but saves lives.

It seems to me that we should have the computing power by now to place a relatively low cost AA artillery shell with proximity fuse into the path of a free flight rocket following a predictable course. Even if we had to fire a dozen of them it would still be far cheaper than firing two Iron Dome missiles (My understanding is they always fire two, to be sure). The old 120mm heavy AA gun of WWII had an 18,000 meter range. Just thought.

>agree with oblatt22…lets avoid the “holocaust”

Not sure why there the talk about the holocaust come from. What they claim is that it’s cheaper to intercept the missile when compared to the cost of reconstruction. And Hamas (not quite sure what it is and what it isn’t) got more than 300$ rocket, which AFAIK got a reduced warhead so it can make the distance. I’ve seen mention of Chinese missile in newspaper and apparently they are much “better”.

We shall start thinking of an holocaust the day where ISIS will be knocking at the door. To be honest even their treat to Iraqi Christian to leave or be executed –as horrific as it can be– is a gentlemen act compared to the holocaust. Why are we talking of holocaust?

As much as you can be laughing about adapting strategies, material designed to sustain the extreme heat of terrestrial re-entry is now about 60 years old and I don’t see why they couldn’t be used for that purpose. The technical ceramic of the space shuttle is even more impressive and classified or not, it’s more than 20 years old.

I am not contradicting the other point you’ve made in your other post but it would be very naive to believe that the enemy can’t play that game.

I don’t know of any chrome that can reflect away high powered energy laser without melting from the sheer heat. This isn’t your son’s toy laser. BTW, laser weapons are not bright lights. Lasers that are bright are, again, from toys.

Even if you could theoretically build something that can reflect away the laser while being both light and sturdy enough to withstand G force, you end up with a very expensive missile, which makes the counter much more economically feasible, which is the whole point of building laser weapons for defensive purpose to begin with.

WW2 aircraft were slow by modern standards. Unboosted projectile from a gun may not be moving fast enough to intercept a fast moving missile where the trajectory of the missile is skewed away from the gun. A kid can hit a car with a snowball, a slow moving interceptor, because the car is a slow moving target. The kid would have much greater difficulty hitting an incoming meteor with a snowball.

The laser is nothing more than a beam of light, and light can be reflected. There is no magic involved in this.

The surface doesn’t need to be a perfect reflector, rather merely needs to be adequately reflective in the spectrum of interest for a very brief interval of time.

Interesting posts, but a few questions/comments: (1) Technical: I thought the problem with lasers was power to fire and recharging time for a second shot. (2) Political: The author looks like he is shilling for the laser industry, which is simply highlightly a competing technology, which even the U.S. hasn’t pushed hard as a validated technical solution. (3) Political: Iron Dome is not really an Israeli system. The US paid fo rmost of it. (4) Technical: There is a recent article by a scientist as to why, just like the early Ratheon Patriot’s, Iron Dome is not very effective, but is being PR’d as the end-all, be-all, which only supports corporate profits and not people safety.

That’s incorrect. You are referring to the variable of Reflectivity which is dependent upon surface finish and material choice. This is different from a Reflection Coefficient which is the ratio of energy reflected versus absorbed (turned into heat). They are related, but different. While a material may have a reflection coefficient near 1 (never perfect), it only applies to a VERY narrow wavelength. All laser weapons in development are multispectral.

Trust that the people designing these weapons are smarter than you or I and have most certainly thought of your counter.

The notion of “polished chrome plating” was intended to be humorous, but using a reflective surface as a laser countermeasure is certainly no joke. Knocking down a missile with a laser is a function of energy flux applied to and absorbed into the target. With a surface that is capable of reflecting a larger fraction of the wavelengths of interest, a smaller fraction is absorbed.

Before the surface melts, burns or otherwise ablates, the surface must first be heated, a process analgous to a race, with the laser heating the surface as the underlying substrate sinks and transports the heat away from the patch surface being heated. Any light energy that is reflected is not absorbed and does not contribute to that heating.

Folks, enough with the bugs bunny physics here. Look at the Selective Laser Sintering– Additive Manufacturing and machining. Shinny is a function of surface finish. The concern here is the coupling of the laser based on its wavelength and the material in question. In the case of the lasers currently in use for SLS such as YAG or the new fiber based lasers don’t couple so well with aluminum (20% energy transfer) but do ok with Titanium, Steel and other metals. So the question becomes what is the wavelength and how much energy can you put on the target and for how long.

Before the laser can heat the surface, the laser must first reach the surface. Particulates in the air and water vapor can scatter and absorb the light, reducing intensity of laser light striking a patch of the surface.

Then it takes time to heat a patch of surface. Heating a larger patch takes more time. The target is moving and perhaps rotating, reducing the time interval that strike upon a specfic patch of surface. The brevity of that interval is exacerbated by jitter in the stability of the laser beam. Anyone who has peered over a hot surface through a rifle scope with high magnification has seen the heated air distort the image with shimmer, and very similarly a high power laser beam passing through the atmosphere heats that air causing a thermal bloom that distorts the path of the light as it passes through. The dynamic nonlinear distortion of that path causes jitter in the stabilization of the laser beam upon a target patch of surface on the missile.

If the surface sufficiently heats to begin an ablation process, a well chosen substrate can outgas a dense cloud of material that can reflect and/or absorb energy flux before it reaches the surface, slowing a process which has only a brief interval in which to be effective.

If you prefer there is also the physics of Wile E. Coyote’s ACME lasers.

As the surface is ablated by the laser, a well selected substrate could generate plasma that would reflect and/or absorb enough energy to retard the ablation process and delay heating of the real target below the substrate.

I wonder, what is the smallest caliber of weapon that can be laser guided with the current technology?

If they could make a laser guided 40mm round with a proximity fuze, that could be a game changer if it could be built at low cost. One shot would suffice to kill a small UAV, mortar round or ATGM.

Or a 40 mm laser-guided mini rocket, whatever is the cheapest.

Plasma, effectively is transparent. True, you CAN use laser frequencies where the laser interacts with the plasma to heat it as physicists are trying to do with laser firing of fusion reactors, but no designer when weaponizing this system will be that naive and stupid. Multispctrum… Leave the naivete and foolish stupidity shouting of their ignorance to hordes of internet citizens like JRT…

I say we make these programs about corporate profits and people’s safety. If we can’t do that, then take the profits out of the equation and have our not-for-profit military design their own system for shooting down missiles. The idea that we would provide a corporation with a profit incentive to fail and expect them to act under those circumstances in the public’s best interest is just plain stupid.

The SGT York system that was tested but not adopted had a Bofors L70 40mm system slaved to an F16 radar on an M60 tank chassis, that, at the end, had a test round that was guide-able in flight. Much shorter range than what’s being discussed here.. but that technology was available as far back as the mid-1980’s.

I have cut Hard chromed steel on an industrial laser. It showed no significant difference. It burns right through.

Nobody spent $3m to shoot down a “$100″ model plane. Book-ended nonsense. The cost of each Iron Dome rocket is about $40,000, and that cost will go down. They are being mass produced in American factories as well as Israeli factories, and so the US is a partner, not just a patron. It gets the Israeli technology, provides jobs and provides another ABM option for the US. A cheaper, I might add than any native US system right now.

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