Tag Archives: navy

Laser gun Navy.

First operational laser weapon set to safeguard US ships from menacing drones

The world’s first operational laser weapon will be protecting US Navy ships from drone attacks, other vessels.

Laser gun Navy.

Image via CNN.

Something named the (arguably not very creative) Laser Weapons System, or LaWS for short, may seem to be pulled out of the realm of hard sci-fi, but it’s actually very real. The weapon is entirely functional and fully capable of shooting down rapid targets such as drones. LaWS is currently deployed aboard amphibious transport ship USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, the US Navy told CNN.

“It works just like a laser pointer,” explained Lt. Cale Hughes, one of the officers operating LaWS, for CNN.

“There’s a chamber inside with special materials that release photons.”

Somewhat like your average laser pointer, the LaWS beam is invisible and completely silent. Similarly, it also travels at the speed of light, some 300,000 km (186,000 miles) per second. What sets it apart from your run of the mill laser pointer is what happens when the beam hits something. Instead of a harmless red point on a powerpoint slide you’re not going to pay attention to anyway, the LaWS’ beam will heat a target to thousands of degrees in a fraction of a second, turning it into a fireball that’s guaranteed to capture your full attention.

It’s also quite cheap on a ‘per pop’ basis. The whole system costs a bit over US$40 million, needs a crew of three, a small generator for power, and will destructify stuff for “about a dollar a shot,” according to Lt Hughes.

Its prey includes airborne threats as well as water-borne foes. Because it’s so accurate, the US Navy hopes that the weapon will help keep combat casualties low on both sides. For example, when engaging a boat, the LaWS can pinpoint the engine and disable it, something conventional weapons can’t do as they tend to cause quite a lot of collateral damage.

Which comes in very handy as the rules set down at the Geneva Conventions preclude armed forces from using laser weapons directly against people, Optics.org reports. Limiting collateral damage will allow navy forces to abide by that protocol, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, said in 2014 at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Now, work is underway on second-generation laser weapons systems which could be used against even more varied targets.


The Greek Navy’s wooden wall — Olympias, last trireme on duty in the world

The HS Olympias is a ship of a kind. Build in 1987, the craft conforms to ancient standards and is currently commissioned by the Hellenic Navy of Greece.

‘Pretty as a trireme’ should definitely be an idiom.
Image credits Templar52 / Wikimedia.

The next time grandpa says ‘they don’t do X like they used to’, feel free to reply with ‘but they do boats’. Then you can thank the Hellenic Navy of Greece for your epic comeback because three decades ago they commissioned a breathtaking reconstruction of a trireme — a variant of the galley with three oar-decks, commonly used by Mediterranean civilizations. The ship was built in 1987 in Piraeus. It currently serves with the Navy, and it’s the only ship of its kind in the world on duty.

Work on the vessel began in 1985 based on blueprints made by naval architect John F Coates with help from historian J.S Morrison. Classics teacher Charles Willink was also brought on board to make sure the ship followed ancient standards by picking up clues from history, art, literature, and shipwrecks.

Greece has a long and proud naval tradition. They were a collection of city states that colonized the Mediterranean and united the known world on the decks of their galleys. Their ships explored, fought wars, and traded in goods and science. Faced with invasion from a hugely superior force (yep it was the Persians), Greek oracles said that ‘Zeus, the all-seeing, grants that the wooden wall only shall not fail’ — and through a long and bloody war, it was the only one that didn’t.

The navy is a central cultural pin for Greece — and nothing screams Greek-navy louder than the bronze-headed, painted-eyes trireme. So they set about to create this awesome piece of experimental archaeology at work.

Old tricks

One thing that’s stood the test of time is that triremes are not cheap to build. The project was funded mainly by the Hellenic Navy, with individual donors such as Frank Welsh, a banker and trireme enthusiast, also pitching in. Olympias was built from Virginia Oak, Oregon pine, and an Iroko hull. Her bow is adorned with a hefty, 200 kg bronze ram, copied after one currently held by the Piraeus archaeology museum. This was the main anti-ship weapon of triremes, and in ancient battles was supplemented with the spears and bows carried by her crew.

Some things, unfortunately, could not be perfectly recreated. Triremes were designed to be fast, aggressive attack ships with low displacement, so they were built to be as light as possible. They were also really long, to house a lot of oars. Combined, these factors meant that the ships were particularly susceptible to bending on the waves — like a bow being pulled. To sustain the hull, a hypozomata (bracing rope) was mounted beneath the deck, tying the two ends of the ship (bow and stern) together. It kept the hull from breaking in two without adding weight — win-win. After every trip, the ships were pulled ashore in slides and the hypozomata was re-tightened.

Originally made out of hemp, the hypozomata had to be replaced with steel cables. Unlike the natural fiber ropes which kept a constant pull, the tension in these cables varied as the hull bent on the waves. Protective measures were taken to prevent crew injury in case they snapped.

The result

So what can this baby do? The Olympias underwent trials at sea in 1987, 1990, 1992, and 1994. In the first one, 170 volunteer men and women took to the oars to power the trireme. She reached 9 knots and could turn 180 degrees in one minute, setting an arc of just two and a half ship-lengths.

These results were achieved with an amateur crew of volunteers, not a seasoned crew. Olympias was also considerably overloaded compared to the triremes of old, due to the addition of the steel hypozomata and protective measures. Still, the ship proves that the ancient Greek historians didn’t embellish the capabilities of their triremes.

Olympias isn’t just a revived sliver of history — the ship is making history today, too. In 1993, she went to Britan for the celebration of two and a half millennia since the birth of democracy. In 2004, she carried the Olympic Flame from Keratsini to the main port of Piraeus, for the Summer Olympic Games.

Today, Olympias is put to dry dock in the Naval Tradition Park, Palaio Faliro, Athens.

All image credits to Wikimedia user Templar52.

Solar Farm in Tucson, Arizona. The one planned by the Navy will be a lot bigger. Image courtesy of IBM Research, Flickr Creative Commons

U.S. Navy will install 210 MW of solar energy in the Arizona desert

The Department of the Navy (DON) announced it will make the largest investment in renewable energy by an federal entity. Its plan is to install a huge 210 megawatt (MW) solar facility – enough to power 80,000 Californian homes – in the Arizona desert, which would serve electricity to 14 US Navy installations. The agreement was signed last month and marks the latest in a slew of measures meant to make the Department of Defense less dependent on oil  – not just by the navy, but also the military or air force.

Solar Farm in Tucson, Arizona. The one planned by the Navy will be a lot bigger. Image courtesy of IBM Research, Flickr Creative Commons

Solar Farm in Tucson, Arizona. The one planned by the Navy will be a lot bigger. Image courtesy of IBM Research, Flickr Creative Commons

The Mesquite solar farm will be built on the American Sun Belt, a generic term meant to describe the southern states of America rich in sunshine, with a growing population, yet with plenty of unproductive or barren soil. Here the solar farm will take advantage of 300 days of sunshine, all while not disturbing anyone – it’s the Arizona desert after all. Elsewhere installing 650,000 solar panels might have been a problem, as featured on our pros and cons of solar energy checklist.

According to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the project will save the Navy around $90 million during its 25-year-long duration. It will also prevent  190,000 tons of greenhouse gases spewing into the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking 33,000 cars off the roads. That’s impressive for sure, but wait until you hear more facts about solar energy.

“The collaboration on Mesquite Solar 3 is a triumph of innovative problem solving, and will help to increase the DON’s energy security by diversifying our power portfolio and improving energy efficiency,” said Mabus at the ceremony with Western and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power.

Image: US Navy / Austin Rooney

Image: US Navy / Austin Rooney

Secretary Mabus is a keen supporter of renewable energy, seeing not only the strategic benefits but also its importance to fostering a better planet. At the end of the day, the Navy has to have something left to protect. For instance, Congress mandated the Department of Defense to source 25% of its energy needs from renewable energy by 2025. For Mabus this hasn’t been a problem. He even raised the stakes by requesting the Navy procures at least 1GW of energy by 2015. Standing at 210 MW, the Mesquite solar farm joins other projects like the 17 MW installation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina or 42 MW at Kings Bay, Georgia, among others. In total, 2015 will see the Navy procure 1.2GW of energy in 2015 – way ahead of schedule.

[MUST READ] Military energy report downplays oil in favor of renewable energy

When completed Mesquite will be one of the largest in the world, but not long after it will start generating energy the installation will be dwarfed by its Californian neighbor: the Blythe Mesa Solar project in California. Blythe Mesa will generate 485 MW of solar energy, part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, increase jobs, and push the US economy towards clean energy sources. All over the world governments are planning massive solar farms, taking advantage of their very own sun belts, India and China in particular. India, for instance, wants to build an incredibly massive 750 MW solar plant on a barren wasteland located in the state of Madya Pradesh. According to Rajendra Shukla, the Indian minister of energy, the plant should be up and running in 2017. Construction has yet to begin.


The LaWS system installed on the destroyer. Image: US NAVY

Laser weapon demonstrated aboard US Navy ship – the weapons of the future

Shells and bullets have evolved significantly in the past couple hundred years since they were first used, but in principle they’ve remained the same – discharge an explosive to propel a projectile. The 21st century might finally make way to a new class of widespread weaponry based on lasers. These are powerful, much more accurate than any explosive projectile and can work in virtually any weather conditions, as demonstrated by the US Navy’s latest deployment of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS).

The LaWS system installed on the destroyer. Image: US NAVY

The LaWS system installed on the USS Ponce. Image: US NAVY

The laser gun was test fired in a couple of rounds held from September to November aboard the USS Ponce (LPD-15) in the Arabian Gulf. In the video released to the public by the Navy, the laser can be seen destroying tiny targets placed far away on a moving attack boat and even a flying drone. Because of its tracking system, moving targets can be swiftly destroyed with pin-point accuracy. At 30 kilowatts or about 30 million times more powerful than your handheld pointer, this baby packs a punch! If you play on a Xbox or Playstation, with just a bit of additional training you could operate this laser yourself since a similar controller is used to operate it.

Because its power and mode of operation can be adjusted, not all targets necessarily need destroying. The LaWS can be used to dazzle pilots or enemy operators or deactivate sensors or other electric components, such as those found in an aircraft, without effectively destroying them. It’s also useful in tandem with conventional heat-seaking missiles, as the laser can be used to heat a target and make the infrared locking easier.

The optical system inside the LaWS. Image: US NAVY

The optical system inside the LaWS. Image: US NAVY

According to the navy, sailors working with the new weapon reported it worked “flawlessly, including in adverse weather conditions” and that it has exceeded expectations for reliability.” Officials were careful to note that this was not a test – the mounted laser is fully operational and battle ready. “If we have to defend that ship today, we will [use the laser] to destroy a threat that comes,”  Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research, said in a press conference at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

The laser's control system

The laser’s control system. Image: US NAVY

Besides accuracy, another advantage of the LaWS is its cost. The cost of launching a missile from a destroyer can cost up to $2 million, while the flyway cost of the laser system is just the price of the electricity it takes to power the device – 59 cents per shot. It’s true that the laser cost $40 to put in operation, but because the USS Ponce is one of the oldest ships in the navy’s fleet, it had to come with a separate power source. If integrated inside a modern ship, the laser would power directly from its local grid significantly reducing costs. Also, since this is a prototype, costs could be scaled down when mass produced.

Of course, you still need missiles to sink enemy destroyers. A laser could do that too – you only need to ramp up the power. A 150-kilowatt version of the laser – five times as powerful as the one mounted on the Ponce – is currently in development.


Navy admits training exercises will likely kill dolphins and whales in large numbers

According to a post in the Navy Times, training and testing will likely “inadvertently” kill hundreds of whales and dolphins and wound thousands in the next five years.

CC BY 2.0 Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

CC BY 2.0 Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

Most of the damage will be done by explosives, though some might come from testing sonar or animals being hit by ships. Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, the Navy’s energy and environmental readiness division director explained that while they use simulators when possible, sailors must also train in real life conditions, and the training just kills dolphins and whales; bummer.

“Without this realistic testing and training, our sailors can’t develop or maintain the critical skills they need or ensure the new technologies can be operated effectively.”

Just off the coast of Hawaii and Southern California, the reports said the naval activities may cause 2,039 serious injuries, 1.86 million temporary injuries and 7.7 million instances of behavioral change (such as swimming in other directions).

They also reported that training with live munitions is scheduled to take place from just 2014 to 2019 in the waters off of the East Coast, Southern California, Hawaii, and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ken Balcomb, from the Center for Whale Research in Washington, says that even protected waters, home to endangered species, are regularly bombed:

“There’s been a number of whales over the past years that have washed ashore with what’s usually described as blunt-force trauma. Many of them—and I’ve seen four myself—are consistent with a blast-type trauma of this nature.”

Copyright: Cascadia Research Collective

Copyright: Cascadia Research Collective

This isn’t the first time the Navy is associated with severe wildlife threats – in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the Navy’s use of sonar, even though it has been shown to cause beachings, hearing loss, and disorientation in dolphins, whales, and seals. In the justification, the Supreme Court argued that the training of the Navy is more important than marine health.

What can you even say about this? What can you even do about this? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know; the Navy isn’t gonna just give up or modify their training to protect wildlife. The Navy will just go on and do their thing, and to be honest, I don’t think the US is a singulary example. Things like this just make it seem like we’re living in a wicked type of futuristic dystopia.

Military scientists announce they are close to turning seawater into jet fuel

According to their own statements, the US Naval Research Laboratory is working to extract the carbon dioxide and produce hydrogen gas from the seawater; if everything works out fine for them, they will be able to convert the CO2 and hydrogen into hydrocarbons which will be used as jet fuel.


Of course, the main interest is a military strategic one: if they will be able to do this, even if it costs more than traditional fuels, then the military will be able to avoid some really risky transfers, as well as save a lot of time.

“The potential payoff is the ability to produce JP-5 fuel stock at sea reducing the logistics tail on fuel delivery with no environmental burden and increasing the Navy’s energy security and independence,” said Heather Willauer, a research chemist with NRL.

According to officials, the cost per gallon would be about between $3 and $6 per gallon – which also makes it viable from an economic point of view. Republicans in the Congress have, of course, opposed the Navy researching alternative fuels, but I’m not gonna go into politics. Could it become an option for producing conventional gas too? It’s really hard to say, and, as you could expect, no statements were given regarding this.

I only want to address one topic: I’m all for researching alternative fuels, it’s obvious that at one point or another, sooner or later, fossil fuels will end, and we will be forced to find an alternative, so news like this really is great news – at least apparently. But it will be used for military purposes; it was researched only because it provides a tactical advantage, only because it will allow the army to fight a better war. When can we expect research like this done for a better life?


SAFFiR firefighting roobt

Navy preps introduction of robot fireman

SAFFiR firefighting roobt

Once flames brake loose, the close confinements of ships or subs suddenly transform into a hellish scene, claiming the lives of countless sailor. The U.S. Navy seeks to counter this deadly hazard by employing a mechanical firefighter among its ranks. Sophisticated, robust, and dexterous, this is a highly exciting project.

Developed by the Naval Research Laboratory,  the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) interacts with its environment and is able to walk just like your regular sailor. Equipped with sophisticated sensors that provide ongoing environmental feedback, finger and hand human-like coordination, which allow the robot to wrestle fire hoses into place or accurately throw extinguisher grenades, smoke penetrating infrared cameras, a battery which allows for a half an hour worth of firefighting autonomy, and coupled with the fact that SaFFiR isn’t really alive and doesn’t mind that much smoke and fire, makes the Navy’s mechanized firefighter one of the most interesting robotic project to come off a military spin-off in a while.

A first test for the firefighting robot is scheduled to take place aboard a decommissioned Navy dock landing ship, the Shadwell, in late September 2013. Though still a long way from commissioning, the SAFFiR firefighter promises to be a real life saver.

Photo and source:  U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

New US Navy high-energy laser blasts ship [video]

Big guns and big boats go well hand in hand most of the time, and the latest experimental weaponry unveiled by the US Navy, dubbed the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), will be sure to please any old sea dog. The diode-pumped solid-state high-energy laser weapon was developed by Northrop Grumman, and its capabilities were demonstrated On Wednesday, April 6th, when the USS Paul Foster, a decommissioned destroyer, was retrofitted with Northrop Grumman’s 15-kilowatt solid-state high-energy laser (HEL) prototype. The destroyer used its high power laser by setting fire to a small and crewless twin-engine motor boat rolling in nearby choppy water. The laser creates a high-energy burst of light by running electrons through specially designed pieces of glass or crystals – combine this in conjunction with the host ship’s radar and navigation systems and you’ve got yourself a deadly and precise weapon.

“This is the first time a HEL, at these power levels, has been put on a navy ship, powered from that ship and used to defeat a target at range in a maritime environment,” said Peter Morrison, program officer for the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Other tests of solid state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions. Having access to a HEL weapon will one day provide a warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

“The results show that all critical technologies for an operational laser weapon system are mature enough to begin a formal weapon system development program,” said Steve Hixson, vice president, space and directed energy systems at Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector. “Solid-state laser weapons are ready to transition to the fleet.”

The eventual goal of the $98M USD Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) is to install 100-kilowatt lasers on ships! Yes, this means in that in the not so distant future (2020ish), the navy is planning on developing war tech capable of cutting through 2,000 feet of steel per second and offering battle-sinking power in an instant.

Futuristic railgun tested by US Navy

The yellow and red flags were out; everybody was tense, waiting, and the gun range was clear. The a klaxon sounded. “System is enabled,” the voice on the speakerphone said. The people nearby could feel a slight shake in the floor. “Gun is fired,” the voice said. All this took place inside a huge cavernous building at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., on Friday.  The projectile left a huge trail of fire behind it, and it also left a whole room of researchers applauding.

If you don’t know what a railgun is… well, you obvously haven’t played Quake. A railgun is a gun that is fired by an electrical charge rather than an explosion. Railguns use two rolling contacts that direct a huge electrical current through the projectile; the current then interacts with the magnetic fields generated by the rails to greatly accelerate it. In this case, they reached the speed seven times greater than the speed of sound.

It was the latest test in Naval railguns, a technology that promises to change Naval warfare forever, once it reaches a certain level. The US Navy hopes this will imbue ships with sci-fi like firepower, and according to their own statements, everything is going just fabulous.

“It’s exhilarating,” Elizabeth D’Andrea, the railgun project’s strategic director, said after the test.

“It’s a very important technology,” said Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr Jr., chief of Naval Research, although “this is not a weapon that’s going to be here tomorrow.”