It's unclear which is the bigger news coming out of the Office of Naval Research; the fact that the Navy's Free Electron Laser (FEL) program has demonstrated an injector capable of producing the necessary electrons to fuel a megawatt-class laser beam, or the fact that a next-generation future weapon under development by the military is months ahead of schedule. Both are good news for the Navy, which might begin lasing threats out of the sky sooner than it anticipated.
Development of the FEL program has been a large undertaking for the Navy, which has invested at least $163 million in a new kind of variable-wavelength laser weapon that should be effective at sea, where moisture and aerosols in the air can severely limit the effectiveness at lasers at certain wavelengths.
The FEL itself isn't new—it was invented decades ago—but fielding a high energy beam is something else entirely. All lasers need some kind of medium—solid state lasers use crystals, chemical lasers use chemicals—to generate the intense light that is then focused into a laser beam. That lasing medium pretty firmly predetermines the wavelength of a laser beam.
The FEL works differently, using magnetic fields to focus a stream of supercharged electrons into powerful beams at varying wavelengths, making it more versatile. But in order to create a free electron laser weapon, researchers at ONR had to design an injector capable of feeding enough electrons into the system to sustain a weapons-grade beam, ideally something in the megawatt class.
Doing so represents a major milestone for the program, putting a ship-based FEL weapons system within reach. Researchers are now studying their continuous electron beams made possible by their new injector and aiming to set a world record for the average current of electrons. That represents a huge step forward from the 14-kilowatt prototype the ONR team started with. The Navy hopes to have a testable prototype by 2018.
FYI, more on the FEL via the ONR below.
It's good to know if Devestator ever climb's a pyramid and tries to reveal a weapon to destroy our sun... we'll be ready for him!
That is rail guns or for, this is completely different. This type of weapon would be very useful for shooting down those anti-ship basaltic missile that everyone is in such a panic about.
^ a "basaltic missile?" now *that* i want to see...
If we are researching this I am sure other countries are too. China will steal this electron emitter technology as soon as it is shared with industry. We also need to be perfecting countermeasures to this weapon such as cold plasma sheilding or some type of a magnetic field deflection. Sorry this weapon will not be ready before 2012. We may have use for it in that year.
Also, since this is a variable frequency weapon it may be useful against the Borg. Make it so number one. Engage
I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, that you're not saying all Chinese are communists, but let's say your comment is directed at only those Chinese people that belong to the Chinese communist political classes or those who support the political classes (excluding civilians that are merely subject to commi rule but dislike it), you seem to be calling for their death? President Hu Jintao is not calling for death to Americans, but you it seems would like to call for mass murder "annihilation" of "Chinese communists". If I have interpreted your comments correctly, then that makes you no better but worse than a serial killer and there is nothing American about that to be proud of. Perhaps you can broadcast your hate in a more suitable forum like a KKK chatroom rather than a popular science journal.
please do us all a favor and google internet trolling / trollface.
This is a science forum not a political forum. The communications use of this technology could bring about more than conflict resolution. When the masses have free access to technology and information, then civil strife tends to decrease.
I personally want to see it in use for NEO, to eliminate planet killer threats.
Because this technology is being developed by the military, the primary function will most definitely be military. It'll start with ballistic-missile defense to anti-aircraft artillery. Then they'll be used as inland reach weapons. Then they'll be armed on tanks planes and eventually small arms variants for combatants.
This is nothing more than a more sophisticated means of conducting violence (i.e. warfare). This type of technology will never have a peaceful application like your suggestion until the planet killer threat becomes very real and imminent. Otherwise this is the 21st Century Canon.
Any chance of over the horizon refraction for the FEL? Tropospheric propagation at sun set or sun rise might extend the range beyond optical.
@jrscinut "The communications use of this technology could bring about more than conflict resolution"
Good point. Use one of these megawatt puppies to send a "Cease and Desist" request and any conflict will be immediately resolved.