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OOC: Laser weapons in MT and PMT: A brief FAQ

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Axis Nova
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OOC: Laser weapons in MT and PMT: A brief FAQ

Postby Axis Nova » Sat Mar 06, 2010 1:27 pm

This post is intended to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about lasers that I've seen on the forums in my time, as well as talk about a few different kinds of lasers that are going to see use in the immediate future in real life, as well as their applications. Before starting, it might prove useful to read up a bit on the basic science behind them.

What kinds of lasers are there?

There are a lot of different types of lasers, but the only ones that have been seriously studied for military useage in real life are chemically powered lasers, and solid state lasers.

What's the difference?

Power source. Chemical lasers are powered by a chemical reaction, solid state lasers require electrical energy. Chemical lasers (currently) have a generally higher output, but solid state laser technology (such as the products of the United States' Joint High Power Solid State Laser program) are significantly smaller, making them better for mobile applications. They also have lower output, but this is seen by most people involved in the field as an engineering issue, rather than something insurmountable. In other words, solid state lasers are the wave of the future, but the technology for chemical lasers exists right now. I mention both because some people may have a stricter definition of MT than others.

It should be noted that solid state lasers have a bulky power supply as well, but this power supply is also usually going to be the engine of whatever they're mounted on it for the most part, so you arn't going to need as much of a separate power supply. Research continues to miniturize important components!

A caveat: not all of the power supply is the engine. Some of it is going to be the components that turn the raw juice into stuff the laser needs.

How do lasers hurt things?

To quote Wikipedia, "The general idea of laser-beam weaponry is to hit a target with a train of brief pulses of light. The rapid evaporation and expansion of the surface causes shockwaves that damage the target."

In other words, a laser weakens and fatigues the structure of a target and basic physics does the rest. At least, any of the lasers you will see in MT will be working in such a fashion. And really most of the time that's all you'll need-- lasers that can vaporize huge chunks of a target are extravagant at best and likely to be primarily limited to ground-based installations.

Sounds pretty nifty. What are lasers useful for?

Primarily, anti-aircraft work. Specifically, aircraft, missiles, artillery shells and mortar rounds are all prime targets for lasers. On a larger scale, they're also useful for intercepting ballistic missiles and ICBMs, but that's rather outside the scope of this document, which is intended to discuss them as applied in a tactical fashion. In the future, sufficiently powerful lasers may allow damage and destruction of soft targets (eg things that arn't armored or arn't very well armored) from the air, but this is only in conceptual stages in real life.

Ha! I'll just put mirrors on all of my stuff. Then your lasers won't work!

This is actually a rather common misconception. First of all, not all lasers operate in the visible spectrum, which means that a given mirror won't be 100% effective against all lasers.

Second, a mirror needs to have 100% efficiency for this to work well, and no mirror operates at 100% efficiency. Even laser-grade mirrors-- eg mirrors as good as the ones used in the laser itself-- won't work for this, because they don't try to absorb the full power of the beam and are just used to focus it.

Third, shining a laser pointer at your bathroom mirror is rather an order of magnitude away from what happens with a combat laser-- at least 100 KW (assuming your laser doesn't suck) is being focused on a tiny area.

Assuming you've done something impossible and created the perfect mirror, it still won't work. Anything at all on a mirror-- water, bugs, dust, fingerprints, the ice that forms on aircraft at high altitudes-- will absorb enough energy to instantly vaporize with the first few pulses, transferring heat and distortions and vibrations to the mirror. The glass will crack and shatter (or the material will distort, if it's not made of glass), and the mirror at that point becomes useless.

Also, obviously enough, covering something mostly with mirrors will make it's radar cross signature larger, which means it will be less stealthy.

So much for mirrors. What about ablative coatings?

Ablative coatings, are, essentially, armor for stuff-- in theory, they'd be there to soak up the laser fire and burn away while leaving whatever they're protecting unharmed. Unfortunately, this is not really a useful solution on anything that has to fly, both due to weight concerns and due to how lasers work (as previously explained above). Armoring your big bad cruise missile sounds like a good idea, until you realize that a) it now has much less range, b) you can't armor every part of the body (control surfaces, sensors, intakes, etc), and c) due to how lasers do damage, as explained above, this won't work well on something that has to move quickly through the air anyways since it's own movement will cause it to tear itself apart or go off course. Also, obviously, the effectiveness of your ablative coating is directly related to how powerful the laser shooting at it is.

How about smoke?

Using smoke to defend aircraft and missiles (or, really, any moving object) against lasers is so obviously problematic that I'm not going to touch seriously on it.

Well, lasers sound pretty badass, but what are the limitations?

For chemical lasers, bulk, weight, and the need to haul large amounts of toxic chemicals around. For solid state lasers, power output; this is something that's being rapidly improved in real life, but even so, don't expect to see them installed in fighters for a few years at least. (next decade is probably a better guess for widespread deployment). Solid state lasers also have weight and size concerns, but not nearly as much so as chemical lasers; the F-35, for example, is projected to be able to use one. Fitting them in larger aircraft is not terribly difficult.

Also, more obviously, lasers only work in line of sight, so they can't hit things over the horizon.

How much of a problem is bad weather for lasers?

Rain, snow, and fog will all reduce the maximum range of a laser, but it won't make one completely useless. That being said, you should be backing up lasers with missiles in any case, so this is not as much of a problem as it sounds. Also, obviously, you can build a laser that uses a wavelength that's more effective at penetrating water, meaning that atmospheric moisture will scatter your beam less.

Furthermore, bad weather does not uniformly affect an entire area-- there are real life experiments with using a low powered laser to determine an optimal beam path and then firing when there's an adequate gap in the weather.

Is it possible to build a laser rifle?

Not in MT, and almost certainly not in PMT. It's just not possible to reduce the size of a laser and it's power source that much. And, frankly, there is no need-- human bodies are fragile enough that ordinary lead bullets will do fine.

How about one of those really cool lasers that shoot things from space that I saw in this one anime?

Space to surface lasers are silly for numerous reasons: a gigantic power source would be needed to pump a laser capable of hitting anything on the ground from orbit, and the laser itself would need to be quite powerful as well, as it would be punching through the -entire- atmosphere. So, no, not really practical at all.

How powerful does a laser need to be to engage a particular target?

You're in luck! There's been assorted studies done on this and here are the results:

Image

Here's another image that provides similar information.

Image


---

This should answer most of the obvious questions; please suggest more below!
Last edited by Axis Nova on Mon Dec 28, 2015 3:12 am, edited 10 times in total.

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Postby Ylamoria » Sat Mar 06, 2010 1:56 pm

Wow, this deserves to be stuck at the top of the page (as a sticky)!
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Postby Amazonian Beasts » Sat Mar 06, 2010 2:12 pm

Nice stuff, Axis.
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Postby Platinea » Sat Mar 06, 2010 2:37 pm

Nicely done.

Could lasers be at all practical for anti-tank work? Or mine clearance?
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Axis Nova
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Postby Axis Nova » Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:24 pm

Lasers arn't so useful for antitank work; unlike with an aircraft, tanks arn't really moving fast enough for their own motion to tear them apart, which means you need to directly melt a lot of it. You could probably damage a tank with a laser, but it's not a terribly efficient way to actually destroy one. Hitting it with a missile (or a tank shot, for that matter) is far better.

Concerning the minelaying thing, that's actually quite nifty. I didn't know lasers were being used for such a thing-- most of my own knowledge is primarily focused on their role in air defense (thus the bias of this FAQ in that direction).

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Postby West Estainia » Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:28 pm

Wicked FAQ, Axis. This should defintely be stickied in my opinion useful stuff after all.

My Question:

Could Lasers as they are today be utilized as a Naval weapons system? Doubt it personally because of what you said about tanks and like them ships don't move nearly as fast as missiles but I figure it to be worth an ask.
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Postby Otagia » Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:41 pm

Axis Nova wrote:Lasers arn't so useful for antitank work; unlike with an aircraft, tanks arn't really moving fast enough for their own motion to tear them apart, which means you need to directly melt a lot of it. You could probably damage a tank with a laser, but it's not a terribly efficient way to actually destroy one. Hitting it with a missile (or a tank shot, for that matter) is far better.

As a slight expansion on this point, it's also helpful to note the differing thicknesses and materials used in tank armor vs aircraft. While aircraft tend to be built out of thin sheets of aluminum or steel (both relatively easy to melt, and the former being stupidly flammable), tank armor is composed primarily of ceramics, interspersed with pellets of various metals like uranium or tungsten. While uranium burns nicely, ceramics aren't known for their low melting points. Further more, said armor is stupidly thick, sometimes a meter or more.

Long story short, stick with sabot or HEAT rounds.

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Postby Otagia » Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:44 pm

West Estainia wrote:Wicked FAQ, Axis. This should defintely be stickied in my opinion useful stuff after all.

My Question:

Could Lasers as they are today be utilized as a Naval weapons system? Doubt it personally because of what you said about tanks and like them ships don't move nearly as fast as missiles but I figure it to be worth an ask.

As anti-missile systems, sure. As anti-ship weapons? Nada. The main problem is that virtually all naval warfare occurs at ranges further than the horizon. Weapons with a ballistic trajectory (cannons) or some sort of guidance (missiles and, to a lesser extent, cannons) can engage a target long before it actually enters visual range. Lasers, on the other hand, require direct line of sight to their target, and quickly drop off in power as range increases.

Also, see above point about armor thickness.
Last edited by Otagia on Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Malikov » Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:59 pm

OOC: Congrats. Finally a comprehensive composition of information on modern laser weaponry.

I think about the only reason MT is considered "laser-free" is because if we allowed this kind've technology the rate of n00bs going: I HAZ A LAZOR AND R BLO U UP WIT IT RAWR!!!1!! I IZ TEH PWNZ ALL OF U!!1!!, would go absolutely sky-rocketing. Considering the current degraded state that the RP's are in right now, I don't think we can afford to introduce it, or else we leave ourselves vulnerable to a n00b-pocalypse.
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Re: OOC: Lasers in MT and PMT: A brief FAQ

Postby Allemande » Sat Mar 06, 2010 4:25 pm

The only weapon that I would consider using in MT that is close to being a "laser" is Raytheon's Active Denial System, which is basically a crowd control weapon.

In PMT I use lasers for anti-air and anti-artillery defense, as well as sniper applications (not having to compensate over range for gravity and wind is nice when you're going for the head shot). Beyond that, I agree that sabot and missiles are still better against armor and bullets still better against infantry, even into the early end of FT.

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Postby Axis Nova » Sun Mar 07, 2010 6:08 am

Updated some parts of this based on input from Vault 10.

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Postby Hornopolis » Sun Mar 07, 2010 8:57 am

Axis Nova wrote:Updated some parts of this based on input from Vault 10.
This needs to be stickied!
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Postby Axis Nova » Sun Mar 07, 2010 9:13 am

Being linked in the general II sticky would probably be better.

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Postby Axis Nova » Sun Jun 20, 2010 11:12 am

Bump for summer.

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Postby The Grand World Order » Mon Jun 21, 2010 11:51 am

I once got called a godmoder for using ground/nuclear-powered ship-based lasers to shoot down aircraft... now I know the people who said that were just tards.

Say, what about MTHEL? It seems rather capable, plus every time I've seen it, it's hauled around on a trailer by a truck. I've seen projections of it being mounted (almost like a ring mount) on Strykers. Can you explain this at all?
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Postby Salzland » Mon Jun 21, 2010 2:34 pm

I use solid state lasers on my capital ships as an intermediate range anti-missile system (between SAMs and CIWS). I basically "borrowed" Northrop-Gruman's Firestrike system, hooked them up to nuclear reactors, and let them go to town. While they offer enhanced interception capabilities (being that they hit targets at the speed of... light), they also overheat rapidly, and I RP them as creating a significant enough power drain to force some ship systems (i.e. lights and communications) to shut down. That usually gives the less-technologically savy RPer sufficient appeasement that they don't complain.

For my space-based systems, they also utilize nuclear reactors for power. Since they're boosted to medium earth orbit, heat disipation is easier to deal with (meaning that they can fire longer), and atmospheric interference is also greatly reduced (meaning that they can fire farther). To compensate, I've made them heavy enough that it requires a Saturn V rocket to boost them up, and required that they be refueled every few years. All in all, each one costs about as much as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to produce, orbit and maintain. An expensive (and limited) anti-missile shield, but comparatively cheaper than taking a nuke.

Some people, however, are unwilling to put in the research to find that there are feasible solid-state and chemical lasers that are not only in use today, but have been for decades (see, for example, the U.S. Navy's ground-based chemical laser experiments in the 1980s and 90s, which lead to actual satellite shoot-downs). The only things really holding them back from RL use are the cost (not something most NS nations have a problem with after a month or two playing, especially when they're not involved in expensive ongoing combat operations) and the political will (because it's hard to justify spending a couple hundred million dollars developing and fielding a new technology, when that money could be used to buy a thousand or so SAMs instead), especially when the RL likelihood of an actual nuclear war is much, much, much lower than the same occuring on NationStates.
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Postby EternalNight » Mon Jun 21, 2010 7:01 pm

Otagia wrote:
West Estainia wrote:Wicked FAQ, Axis. This should defintely be stickied in my opinion useful stuff after all.

My Question:

Could Lasers as they are today be utilized as a Naval weapons system? Doubt it personally because of what you said about tanks and like them ships don't move nearly as fast as missiles but I figure it to be worth an ask.

As anti-missile systems, sure. As anti-ship weapons? Nada. The main problem is that virtually all naval warfare occurs at ranges further than the horizon. Weapons with a ballistic trajectory (cannons) or some sort of guidance (missiles and, to a lesser extent, cannons) can engage a target long before it actually enters visual range. Lasers, on the other hand, require direct line of sight to their target, and quickly drop off in power as range increases.

Also, see above point about armor thickness.


A laser could (subject to range/LOS limits) M-kill a ship by wrecking the radars. That's about the most effective damage a current day weaponized laser could do to a ship.
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Postby Third Spanish States » Mon Jun 21, 2010 11:38 pm

EternalNight wrote:A laser could (subject to range/LOS limits) M-kill a ship by wrecking the radars. That's about the most effective damage a current day weaponized laser could do to a ship.


By the time a NS-grade ship closed to ranges where blooming wouldn't make a modern tech experimental laser useless, the battle would already be resolved.

Also, a laser can only engage one target at a time, where rolling airframe missiles can engage several. And the existing laser tech can't scratch the bigger anti-shipping missiles that would be featured in naval warfare, relegating them to disabling IEDs, mines(perhaps), mortar/artillery and RPGs.

Lasers may be cool, but they are mostly useless.
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Postby Axis Nova » Tue Jun 22, 2010 2:35 am

That's a matter of opinion. If someone wants to go to the trouble of hauling a nice big chemical laser out on a warship (or, alternately, stick it in a large plane of some sort such as with the American's own experiments in that department) they'll be able to plink antiship missiles just fine. There's no special feature about such missiles that makes them invulnerable to lasers.

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Postby Hypparchia » Tue Jun 22, 2010 2:42 am

Actually lasers have already been used in combat. As long as I remember, the Iraqis used tank-mounted blinding lasers against Iranian troops in the 1980s.

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Postby Dimoniquid » Tue Jun 22, 2010 6:33 am

Hypparchia wrote:Actually lasers have already been used in combat. As long as I remember, the Iraqis used tank-mounted blinding lasers against Iranian troops in the 1980s.

And there was a thread in NS Draftroom about the navy taking down a fighter with a laser system.
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Postby Hypparchia » Tue Jun 22, 2010 10:53 am

Dimoniquid wrote:
Hypparchia wrote:Actually lasers have already been used in combat. As long as I remember, the Iraqis used tank-mounted blinding lasers against Iranian troops in the 1980s.

And there was a thread in NS Draftroom about the navy taking down a fighter with a laser system.


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Postby Gibberish America » Tue Jun 22, 2010 3:54 pm

this sounds pretty assuring... haha it'll keep a lot of godmodders on MT threads in line as well
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Postby Mossat » Wed Jun 23, 2010 1:01 pm

Just a question, and I'm not sure if I will get shot down for this...

Would it be possible to construct an anti-missile/anti-air laser weapon similar to the Excalibur laser from Ace Combat Zero?
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Postby Toopoxia » Wed Jun 23, 2010 1:18 pm

I'm wondering, given the trend for Missile Spam, how great is the number of ballistics a laser would be able to bring down in any given space of time? Just an estimate. Would having a laser defence system installed on, say, naval vessels, significantly reduce the number of projectiles the enemy can use?
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