Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Free Electron Laser Weapon?

Laser weapons experts at the Boeing Co. Defense, Space & Security segment in Huntsville, Ala., are developing 100-kilowatt free electron laser weapon technology as a foundation on which to develop a next-generation megawatt class free electron laser weapon for use aboard U.S. Navy surface warships under terms of a $23.7 million contract announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Va., is awarding the contract as part of the Navy's Free-Electron Laser (FEL) Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) program. Boeing will perform critical design of a 100-kilowatt free electron laser to demonstrate scaleability of the necessary free-electron laser physics and engineering for an eventual megawatt class free electron laser.

This part of the FEL INP program will enhance 14-kilowatt free-electron laser capability to a weapons-class 100-kilowatt capability. The intent is to transfer laboratory capability to industry, and to assess how the defense industry could support development and manufacturing of free-electron laser weapon systems.

Last July Boeing scientists announced they had projected a photoelectron beam from a superconducting injector they developed with Niowave Inc. as part of the Navy FEL program. Boeing completed the preliminary design of the Navy Free Electron Laser weapon system earlier this year, which company officials called "a key step toward building an FEL prototype for realistic tests at sea."

The Boeing free electron laser passes a beam of high-energy electrons through powerful magnetic fields, generating an intense emission of laser light that can disable or destroy targets. Boeing started developing the FEL system in April 2009.

Boeing will do work on the latest contract in Albuquerque, N.M.; Medford, N.Y.; and at government labs, and should be finished by 2011.

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