I want one of these.
September 20, 2000 8:26 PM   Subscribe

I want one of these. There's an airplane which comes around here every once in a while and circles overhead for perhaps half an hour, then leaves. I think it's a realtor. (There's been a lot of building in this area recently, with housing developments going in and stuff like that.) It's damned annoying and I get tired of listening to it. Sometimes it's a helicoptor instead.

If I can't have one, then I want one of these instead.
posted by Steven Den Beste (8 comments total)
Actually, this is the link I should have used for the stinger missile.

Anyway, what I wanted to add was that if I were a soldier in a modern war, I'd feel a lot more confident being protected by one of these hyper-lasers than I would being defended by the highly-overrated Patriot missile.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:51 PM on September 20, 2000

In all fairness to the overrated Patriot (it *is* overrated) the weapon was not originally intended to be an interceptor. All that anti-missile stuff was a software upgrade because, as usual, some engineers figured "what the heck, maybe it'll work"
posted by aramaic at 8:56 PM on September 20, 2000

The requirement that it become an antimissile defense was imposed from above, not created from below. (It's an ugly tale; I've read the history of the program.)

But it's necessary to make something clear: during the Gulf war, the Patriot missile was nearly a complete failure tactically but was a total success strategically.

The US had put together a coalition which included significant forces from several Arab nations, including not only expatriate Kuwaitis, but also Saudis and Egyptians and others as well. It was hard to convince them to be involved in attacking Iraq, a fellow Arab country, but it was possible because Iraq itself had attacked and overrun Kuwait, another Arab country.

But the one thing which was absolutely certain was that they would not serve beside Israeli forces. It was absolutely essential that Israel stay out of the conflict, for if Israel had gotten involved militarily, the coalition would have fallen apart.

The Iraqis knew this, and that's why they were firing most of their Scuds at Israel. They were trying to provoke Israel into making some sort of reprisal (which they could have done easily; Iraq is within air strike range of Israel, especially if you don't mind violating Jordanian airspace), which would then have caused no end of trouble in the coalition.

What the Patriot missile did strategically was to keep the Israelis passive, to keep them out of the conflict, to keep them from making their own reprisals. In that mission it was a complete success.

It failed tactically because its intercept rate was damned near zero. but it succeeded strategically by keeping Israel from bombing Iraq, which would have lead to all sorts of unpleasant political fallout. In particular, without the whole-hearted support of the Saudis, the counterattack would have been impossible.

But the fact remains that if I were a soldier today, I'd rather be defended by one of these lasers, because the Patriot is still a piece of shit.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:45 PM on September 20, 2000

Another problem with patriots is that EVEN IF THEY HIT, you're still screwed. Because they intercept in the terminal phase, Scud parts will still fall on you. Big, heavy, and explosive Scud parts....

I dunno about the lasers though; they just seem so damn fragile and expensive. But I probably say that because I'm a fan of charged-particle weapons. Which, unfortunately for me, aren't especially useful in atmosphere. So I guess I'm just being blindly anti-laser.
posted by aramaic at 6:17 AM on September 21, 2000

Back to the laser, if I may. I want to know when and how the "laser beam" stops, especially if it misses. Just wondering here on the theoretical plane. Does it run out of energy eventually and fade away? Does it go "boom" when it hits something, like in the movies? Or does it just slice through, unimpeded by what it hits, and continues on? Are they refracted by elements in the atmosphere, as I assume aramaic eluded to? Any ideas?
posted by cowboy at 12:45 PM on September 21, 2000

It refracts just like any other light, but since you use an optical aiming system (probably computer assisted), you hit what you see. (The light refracts the same way both directions.) So refraction caused by atmospheric effects in between doesn't really matter.

All the documentation is extremely vague on specific technical details about things like how powerful the beam is, or how long it lasts, or how often it can fire. However, you can see some pictures here. What exactly happens to the target depends a great deal, I think, on exactly what you're shooting at and where on it you hit. Hit a fuel tank and you get a fireball. Hit a warhead and you get an explosion. Hit a pilot, and you get a crashing plane.

Since the beam travels at the speed of light, one nice thing is that it isn't necessary to try to predict where the target will be some time in the future. You just shoot at what you see.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:18 PM on September 21, 2000

This discussion puts me in mind of that scene in "Lonely Are The Brave" where Kirk Douglas shoots down a helicopter with what appears to be a Winchester Model 94.

Steven, are you sure they were realtors?
posted by dcehr at 1:41 PM on September 21, 2000

I'd just like to point out that since our constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, I'll have to defend your right to arm yourself with missiles and lasers to the death. And those who want to take away that right won't stop there. No, they will come and take away assault rifles, and Mack 10s, and then they'll insist on gun registration. So beware those nuts!

posted by norm at 2:21 PM on September 21, 2000

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