The end of air supremacy

ESR called this one in “Battlefield Lasers”, which appeared in Riding the Red Horse.

If history teaches us anything about military technology, it’s that cheap systems scale up faster than expensive ones do. It is already easy to imagine an up-gunned version of Rodriguez’s laser pointer slaved to a radar with a couple of bog-standard servomotors. Off-the-shelf parts, incremental cost less than $3K each, with most of it the development budget going for the targeting firmware. Cost per shot, effectively free.

Call it the PlaneZapper. You could sit it on a roof, power it off wall current, and it would blind every pilot it can see. Including drone pilots; even if there’s a peak-clipping filter between a drone’s sensors and its pilot’s screen, the effect will be like whiteout. Altitude and cloudy skies might save pilots from the early versions of the PlaneZapper, but for anything that has to fly low and slow this could already be a death knell. Close air support and medevac are obvious vulnerabilities.

Apparently someone at Boeing was reading Raymond:

Wednesday morning, the company showed off its Compact Laser Weapon System for media in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s a much smaller, significantly more portable version of the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) Boeing demonstrated last year. This setup looks like an overgrown camera, swiveling around on a tripod.

In the demo, Boeing used the laser to burn holes in a stationary, composite UAV shell, to show how quickly it can compromise an aircraft. Two seconds at full power and the target was aflame. Other than numerous safety warnings to ensure no one was blinded by the two-kilowatt infrared laser, there was no fanfare. No explosions, no visible beam. It’s more like burning ants with a really, really expensive magnifying glass than obliterating Alderaan.

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes.

This means that the battle for air supremacy is going to have to move higher, which is to say, space.