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  • Supercharged FEL Blasts Through Steel
Mar 2011
WASHINGTON, March 1, 2011 — The Navy's Free Electron Laser (FEL) has set a record for power generation, blasting through steel at a rate of 20 feet per second, Fox News reported.

A test blast revealed that the FEL can shoot cruise missile from the sky in seconds with an accuracy that doesn’t exist in the military’s vast arsenal today.

During a private tour of the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Va., saw scientists blast unprecedented levels of power into a prototype accelerator, producing a supercharged electron beam that can burn through 20 feet of steel per second.

Scientists there, in coordination with the Office of Naval Research (ONR), injected a sustained 500 kV (kilovolts) of power into a prototype accelerator where the existing limit had been 320 kV — setting a new world record, the scientists said.

“This is brand new — it has not been done before, in the world,” Carlos Hernandez-Garcia, director of the injector and electron gun systems for the FEL program, told Fox News. He added that Friday’s breakthrough was the culmination of six years of development.

“It’s huge in regards to upgrading the laser power beam quality,” Quentin Salter, program manager for ONR told Fox News. ONR officials said the FEL will eventually perform at a megawatt class, however currently the accelerator at Jefferson Lab is performing at just 14 kW.

In other news, the Navy just awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $163 million to take that technology and package it as a 100 kW weapons system, one that the Navy hopes to use not only for defense, but also for on-ship communications, tracking and detection. Saulter said they hope to meet that goal by 2015.

“We’re fast approaching the limits of our ability to hit maneuvering pieces of metal in the sky with other piece of flying metal,” Nevin P. Carr Jr., rear admiral and chief of naval research, told That’s why he calls free election laser technology or “directed energy” tech “our marquee program.”

The military now uses solid-state lasers that use crystals and glass, as well as chemical lasers that often use dangerous liquid materials. The FEL is different. It requires only electrons, which can be created from matter inside the injector with energy that is constantly recycled. In other words, it uses less shipboard power than current weapons systems. “It won’t slow down the ship,” Saulter said.

Navy officials also said the FEL can perform at different wavelengths, meaning it can operate at lower and more powerful levels so that it can be used for different applications, which other laser technology cannot. The FEL also not vulnerable to atmospheric conditions, as solid-state lasers are, making them wane in power depending on the weather.

“The fact that you can tune the wavelength, that’s what makes it different. You can optimize the beam for the conditions of the day — that’s really powerful,” Carr said to Fox News. “So in a warfighting sense, the FEL’s ability to do that on a ship makes it much more attractive” than other laser technology.

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