Today's laser weapons buzz may mean military deployment will be sooner than we think
Posted by John Keller
There's suddenly a lot of buzz in our industry about laser weapons
development. Several different technological advances and upcoming laser weapons tests has me thinking that the first field deployments of laser weapons may be sooner than we think.
The latest news is a completed systems integration by Boeing Directed Energy Systems of the U.S. Army's truck-mounted High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD)
-- a high-energy solid-state laser weapon designed to shoot down incoming rockets, mortars, artillery shells, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- and planned tests of the experimental weapon this fall at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
That announcement, which came on 27 June, follows closely on last week's $39.8 million contract award from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in San Diego to develop a 150-kilowatt high-energy solid-state laser weapon that could be mounted to ships, fighter aircraft, armored combat vehicles, and perhaps even unmanned vehicles. The contract is part of the fourth phase of the DARPA High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS)
Just two months ago laser weapons experts from DARPA and the U.S. Navy demonstrated a high-energy laser off the California coast as the laser disabled the engines on a small boat. This demonstration was part of the military's Joint High Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL)
program. The laser fired off California, called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), was built by the Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif.
So what might all this activity in laser weapons research
mean? It might mean nothing beyond several programs coming to fruition at the same time. On the other hand, it might mean a lot.
We often read in the press about nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile development in Iran
. Now couple that with the upcoming demonstration of a powerful laser weapon designed to defeat incoming rockets and missiles. Coincidence? Maybe, and maybe not.
Despite several laser weapons research programs recently yielding promising technology, a lot more has to be done before these technologies deploy in fielded military systems
. The military services first must demonstrated a tangible need for laser weapons, and then they need to find money in their budgets to develop and produce them. That's much more difficult than it sounds.
Still, we've developed high-energy laser weapons technology, and see a demonstrated threat out there. The rest is up to the U.S. military to put two and two together.
Smart money today isn't betting on the success of space exploration
Posted by John Keller
Wanna know where American space-exploration
efforts are headed? Just watch how the smart money bets.
The Boeing Co., one of the world's largest and most influential aerospace companies, is laying off 510 workers
in the company's Space Exploration division in Houston, the company announced today. That's 510 employees. That doesn't sound like Boeing has a lot of confidence in the future of U.S. space exploration.
Okay, Boeing officials are saying the layoffs are due to the planned completion of the Space Shuttle
program. I'll buy that. But take a look at the long-term prospects for sustained U.S. space exploration, and you'll find not much there.
It's not that U.S. agencies like NASA, which are in place to promote space exploration, don't want to pursue new projects with vigor. There's just no money, and little, if any, national will to send humans into space on any great scale.
The Shuttle program is ending, the International Space Station is being mothballed, and there's really nothing on the horizon with any prospect for adequate funding to generate much more than the occasional press release.
U.S. space exploration is heading for another dark age. It reminds me of the 1970s after the Apollo program, and after the first U.S. space station program, called Skylab, lost its luster. Apollo was done, the moon was conquered, the nation was exhausted from Vietnam. Nobody wanted to put serious time, energy, and money into space anymore.
The Skylab space station, launched in 1973, was left adrift in space without any support. The Saturn V program was over, the Space Shuttle wasn't ready yet, and Skylab in 1979 sunk into the Earth's atmosphere and burned up on re-entry.
The first Space Shuttle launched in 1981 -- two years too late to save Skylab. Now the Space Shuttle program is over, leaving the U.S. with no spacecraft capable of serving the International Space Station. Russia, about the only country left with the rocket capability to get to the Space Station, doesn't want to pay for supporting that mission anymore.
It's looking like the International Space Station could face the same fate as Skylab. I'm betting that about 510 soon-to-be-former employees of Boeing today are thinking the same thing.