Friday, April 22, 2011

Enough about lasers

Lasers are in the news again, as the US Navy has successfully tested a solid-state high energy laser fired from a warship. Overcoming violently bobbing seas, the laser managed to set its target's engine on fire from miles distant, a fact attested by a subsequent YouTube video:

Shortly following the test, commentators jumped to suggest an immediate application of the weapon: hunting pirates (see, for instance, US Navy's laser test could put heat on pirates). It is the second time in recent months that lasers have been proposed as anti-pirate weapons, the first being BAE's development of a laser distraction system in January.

Believe me, I get it: shooting pirates with lasers would be really cool (a view shared by the BBC News anchor who asked his guest, an expert on maritime security, if the pirates would be able to defend themselves from such a weapon by holding up a giant mirror). But the challenge faced by the international naval forces off Somalia is being within miles of the pirates when they attack, not what weapons to use once they have them in their sights. Put simply, you don't need space age weaponry to defeat poorly-trained brigands armed with a motley collection of aging assault rifles and the odd RPG launcher. I'll admit, it's an amusing image: that of a wretched, half-starved Somali pirate, a US warship bearing down on him, secretly relieved that his ordeal has come to an end and resignedly preparing to toss his gun overboard and surrender himself, only to look on in perplexed bewilderment as the outboard motor on his beat up fishing skiff suddenly erupts into spontaneous flame.

This is a one-sided arms race if there's ever been one.


  1. Shooting pirates with lasers IS cool.

  2. I can't believe the Navy invented a maritime laser weapon just for hunting pirates.

  3. I think that its primary application is anti-aircraft defence.