German Military Laser Destroys Targets Over 1Km Away

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A German company has brought us one step closer to the kinds of shootouts only seen in Sci-Fi films. Düsseldorf-based Rheinmetall Defense recently tested a 50kW, high-energy laser at their proving ground facility in Switzerland. According to the company, the laser passed the test with “flying colours.”

The system isn’t actually a single laser but two laser modules mounted onto Revolver Gun air defense turrets made by Oerlikon and attached to additional power modules. The laser modules are 30 kW and 20 kW, but a Beam Superimposing Technology (BST) combines two lasers to focus in a “superimposed, cumulative manner” that wreaks havoc on its targets.

First, the system sliced through a 15mm- (~0.6 inches) thick steel girder from a kilometer away. Then, from a distance of two kilometers, it shot down a handful of drones as they nose-dived toward the surface at 50 meters per second. The laser’s radar, a widely used system called Skyguard, was capable of tracking the drones through their descent up to three kilometers away.

After successfully testing their 50kW laser system, Rheinmetall Defense has its sights on a truck-mounted mobile system with 100kW of metal-slicing power.

For its finale, the laser’s ability to track a very small ballistic target was demonstrated. It honed in on and destroyed a steel ball 82mm in diameter traveling at 50 meters per second. The small ball was meant to simulate an incoming mortar round. Rheinmetall says their laser will reduce the time required for C-RAM – Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar measures – to a matter of seconds, even in adverse weather conditions. In fact, weather at the Ochsenboden Proving Ground in Switzerland where the demonstration was carried out included ice, rain, snow, and extremely bright sunlight – far from ideal.

Rheinmetall had tested a 10kW high-energy laser last year. Next year the company plans on testing a 60kW “technology demonstrator.” In addition to the more powerful laser, the system will be packing 35mm Ahead Revolver Guns. With the combined systems Rheinmetall hopes to explore ways in which a laser and an automatic cannon can be used together. And the company is already looking past the 60kW, saying in a press release that “nothing stands in the way of a future [high-energy laser] weapon system with a 100kW output.” Lastly, they’ll begin making these high-energy laser systems mobile by mounting a laser onto a TM170 armored vehicle. Their ultimate goal is to mount the lasers on vehicles operating in the open.

While minuscule compared to the 200 petawatts of laser power (ten to the fifteenth watts!) that scientists in Europe plan to use for experiments, the 50kW laser seems quite ready to make a difference on the battlefield. Apart from science fiction novels, the idea of using high-energy lasers have been considered for weaponry since the mid 20th century. Countries such as the US, Russia, China, among others, are developing their own high-energy laser programs. Whether or not we hear about future demonstrations will be a matter of national security rather than technological success. I think it’s safe to assume this is one arms race that’s soon to heat up.

Peter Murray

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.

Discussion — 18 Responses

  • Moshe Feder January 7, 2013 on 1:22 pm

    Interesting report, but allow me to suggest that unless these lasers are intended to be a knife sharpener as well as a weapons system, your statement that “It honed in on and destroyed a steel ball 82mm in diameter traveling at 50 meters per second.” makes no sense.

    What you should have written was that “it homed in on” the steel ball.

    “Honing” is for blades.” “Homing” is for pigeons and weapons. Please help to keep this important distinction alive.

    • Vinnie Falco Moshe Feder January 7, 2013 on 4:48 pm

      Correcting someone’s grammar in a public forum shows poor etiquette.

      • pooretiquette Vinnie Falco January 9, 2013 on 4:46 am

        I will now show my poor etiquette by pointing out the fact that by pointing out someone else’s poor etiquette shows poor etiquette.

      • Jeff Andresen Vinnie Falco January 18, 2013 on 11:06 am

        He is pointing out the grammatical error in a news article, which the editor should have caught. This is not a conversation. You sir are to PC.

    • TustinFocus Moshe Feder January 7, 2013 on 5:33 pm

      I respect your effort for grammatical correctness.

      From my own admittedly light research consisting of one Google search, “hone in” is actually a phrasal verb used correctly within the text of this article, according to at least one reference:

      I am not testifying to the veracity of either the article’s usage or the content of the link I’ve provided; I’m merely providing it for context.

      • John Disgraceland Stanhope TustinFocus January 8, 2013 on 6:27 am

        If I had one suggestion, it would be to get out more. Or simply say something like “I think you meant homed, rather than honed”.

        Oh, silly me, should I have prefaced this with ‘Allow me to suggest’?

    • Johnalbert Eadie Moshe Feder January 8, 2013 on 6:18 pm

      BTW guys. I made an offhand comment about the rain, but educate a simpleton: are these kinds of lasers not interfered with fairly simply?

  • Aaron Faby January 7, 2013 on 2:45 pm

    Nice! Now all they need to do is put the “laser” on the moon and make the most expensive popcorn maker ever!

  • Moshesdisciple January 7, 2013 on 3:00 pm

    Moshe Feder: Thank you! thank you! for helping clueless readers such as myself “home” our writing skills with your expert critique and pithy analysis.

  • marcos anthony toledo January 7, 2013 on 3:01 pm

    The science fiction nightmare weapons are coming whether we our ready or not.

  • Johnalbert Eadie January 7, 2013 on 10:53 pm

    That’s pretty good. Zap incoming. All they got to
    do is make it see through the rain.

  • Werner Waage January 8, 2013 on 4:45 am

    Im mounting mirrors on the front of my missiles from now on!
    Someone is probably going to patent that idea and get rich now, please forget that you read this comment.

  • JohnT January 8, 2013 on 6:14 pm

    BTW you are confusing average power and peak power. The petawatt laser produces peak powers of a petawatt for a very short duration pulse,( ~10^-13s or so), with low repetition rates which results in average powers of less than a watt. The weapon is delivering 50kW average or CW….which is a lot and great for destroying things.

  • Abdul Wahid January 9, 2013 on 8:31 am

    while other countries such as Iran, and North Korea are always ridiculed and subdued for their legal Military operations

  • Ersatzreifen January 11, 2013 on 12:01 am

    I would like one to mount on my home and one on my car to automatically protect against American military/police drones.

  • GuySmiley January 11, 2013 on 6:03 am

    Ha! I counter your silliy laser with my new electro magnetic pulse gun! What you gonna do without electricity Shultz?

    • Joe Cushing GuySmiley January 24, 2013 on 5:36 am

      There are no EMP guns. There is a EMP from nukes. EMP can be shielded against with 100 year old technology. Foil. Actually if you count gold foil, we could have build an EMP shield 1000s of years ago, long before EMP was ever invented.

  • Joe Cushing January 24, 2013 on 5:39 am

    This is actually a good thing. Lasers are going to be very effective defensive weapons. They will offer some offensive capabilities but their defensive capabilities were be much more significant. The ability to stop missiles and drone aircraft will be huge. It will take a lot of power to fire them rapidly though. I suspect a single laser with a computer controller could take out many hundreds of projectiles, rockets, and airplanes all headed at the target at once.