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The next war will be fought with lasers beside computers, I'm wondering could a bullet proof vest coated with a highly reflective surface protects user from laser blast. The laser in question is similar to those used in Sci-fi movies such as Star Trek, etc, meaning the output is mainly electromagnetic radiation not hot gas such as plasma.

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  • $\begingroup$ invisibility cloaks are a counter to lasers. jus ideas $\endgroup$ – Julius Sep 4 '16 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ It would be helpful if you talked more about what sort of laser you're using (visible spectrum, maser, etc.), including it's weaponized capabilities (how much energy is it delivering per microsecond?) and expected deployment. Lasers as currently understood are not particularly effective as, say, infantry weapons, but have a lot more uses in satellite warfare because their weaknesses (needing a lot of time on-target, atmospheric ablation of the beam, low penetration) are less of an issue. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Sep 4 '16 at 21:02
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Mirror only means that laser beam is reflected as a beam. On dense battlefield that's exactly what you want to avoid, because it would be even more deadly than traditional ricochet. No go for mirrors.

What you want is just white, as bright you can get it, to reflect light in all directions, making it less threatening to other soldiers. And you need it to stay white. Heat your armor absorbs, because it will absorb some, must be distributed and dissipated fast. If it can't, black burn marks are not acceptable. Ash must be white, too.

If exposure to laser is too long, you need insulation, so hot outer layer will not burn your guy. And some kind of alarm. If he can't feel he's being shot, he can't get out of the line.


For adaptive, adjustable mirrors, it's also not quite possible, or at least hard.

Speed of light in air is so close to speed in vacuum that difference can be ignored for all practical purposes. So you get information about being fired upon at the moment you are hit. So making decisions then is already a bit late. You would need to track enemy's muzzles before they will shoot to help that. In a crowded battlefield, it's next to impossible - or the technology needed is a game changer on it's own.

Burning is not immediate, that's right. This might give you a moment to adjust, but of course your enemy will do his best to burn you faster than you can adjust. Arms race. But it's easier to increase raw power than to increase computer speed. For ships, this might work. For "bullet proof vest" analog? I can't believe it.

And, of course, computer and servos would take space, making armor more bulky.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm.. related? $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Sep 4 '16 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ But reflection as a beam, if used intelligently(say by a computer-controlled swivelling mirror) becomes a powerful offensive weapon, no? $\endgroup$ – Salmoncrusher Sep 4 '16 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Sal no. Laser travels at the speed of light, so when you know it's coming, you are already hit and all adjustments would be too late. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 4 '16 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Molot, not necessarily. For starters, the speed of light is slower through a medium than through a vacuum. Secondly, a laser doesn't aim at the speed of light. The computer can watch the laser as it aims, and adjust then. Thirdly, it doesn't have to be at the speed of light. The laser won't instantly burn the target, it heats it up over time. You'll have some fraction of a second to reflect the beam before you're incinerated. $\endgroup$ – Salmoncrusher Sep 4 '16 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Speed of light in air is so close to speed in vacuum that difference can be ignored for all practical purposes. And if you can track enemy's muzzles in a crowded battlefield, it's a whole another story. For speed of burning, of course your enemy will do his best to burn you faster. Arms race. But it's easier to increase raw power than to increase computer speed. For ships, this might work. For "bullet proof vest" analog? I can't believe it. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 5 '16 at 6:35
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If you are using your lasers offensively to burn holes in targets, mirrors in general would work really well as a defense. With that said, there are some caveats you need to consider.

A mirror may not reflect all laser wavelengths of electro-magnetic photons/radiation. Reflective Mylar is fine against visible light but not so good against an x-ray laser. When we think of mirrors we assume visible light. The EM spectrum is much larger than just what we can see.

Even the best mirrors do not reflect 100% of all radiation; some of the energy will still heat and eventually burn through the mirror. This is the equivalent of bashing a suit of armor long enough you finally pierce it. So your mirrors need to have the ability to transfer heat away from the surface and get rid of it somehow. One method of countering this problem is to use a disposable shield/mirror. Aluminum foil chaff between you and your attacker, vaporized water, smoke, or anything that might reflect/disperse/distort/refract the laser will reduce its effectiveness.

If you want to be able see your enemy so you can shoot back, you need holes in your armor for cameras or whatever. Or possibly laser muzzles to shoot back with. Those become vulnerable non-mirrored surfaces to aim a laser at. Using a laser as a weapon will allow precise correction of aim if you are slightly missing a vulnerable spot.

Any inefficiencies in the laser weapon will result in waste heat when running the laser. If this waste heat is large enough (even a small percentage of a powerful enough laser could be a serious problem) the attacker needs to somehow deal with this excess heat if they don't want their weapon to destroy itself.

And even though lasers are not all that bulky or heavy, unless you have a really large battery or a long extension cord, providing power to a powerful laser is a problem. This is why laser weapons are currently restricted to stationary bases or ships that have fission reactors aboard so that the power to run them is close at hand. The problem with mobile lasers is not the laser, it's the power-plant-on-a-railroad you have to haul with you to run it.

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    $\begingroup$ You're overestimating the albedo of a mirror. Far from "not perfectly 100%", a mirror has an albedo of about 0.72; on par with polished aluminium (0.75), and notably less than white gypsum (0.85), polished silver (0.92), white alabaster (0.93), or magnesium oxide (0.96). Special reference materials can achieve albedos of up to 0.995. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Sep 4 '16 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Mike: "a mirror" is not a particular material. Mirrored surfaces can be made of any of the materials you mention. $\endgroup$ – Ben Voigt Sep 4 '16 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ @BenVoigt You'd have a seriously hard time making a mirror out of a diffuse material like gypsum, alabaster, magnesium oxide, or foam. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Sep 4 '16 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeL.: Ok, not ALL of the materials. But aluminum and silver (if covered to prevent oxidation) are very good for mirrors, and magnesium oxide also needs to be covered or else it becomes hazy $\endgroup$ – Ben Voigt Sep 4 '16 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ I am 100% sure that the USS Ponce does not have a fission reactor and that it still has a laser gun. $\endgroup$ – SMS von der Tann Sep 4 '16 at 20:30
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Possibly better than a mirror - which is just going to bounce the beam off in what may be an undesirable direction, like towards your friends - might be plates of corner cube reflectors (like the ones used for bicycle reflectors, or the distance measuring reflectors apollo left on the moon.

The corner cube design reflects the beam back in the direction it came from.

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Far better are materials that can simply absorb the thermal energy, ablate and allow you to ignore it.

Covering drones or missiles, that already have a very low radar cross-section, with the kinds of tiles found on reentry vehicles like the various space shuttles, typically ceramics and/or aerogels is far cheaper than reflecting surfaces. Additionally rotating the missile at high speed reduces the time any laser has to heat some part of it. Additionally, these tend to be extremely lightweight although brittle and so add little to the weight of the weapon making them an ideal and cheap countermeasure to any maser/laser.

Lasers are easy to counter. The latest fashion for them ignores their obvious limitations in favor of the PR and status they present rather than their efficacy.

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