What is the new plasma ‘foo-fighter’ technology and is it responsible for the Hornet UFO footage?

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The US Navy has filed patents relating to Laser Induced Plasma Filiments to counter infra-red missiles.  We asked former British technical liaison Jim Smith to explain this exotic technology and consider if it offers a solution to the mysterious UFOs spotted by US Navy Hornets’ targeting pods. 

Hush-Kit asked me to have a look at this article from Forbes.com. The article draws attention to a US Navy patent suggesting that Laser-induced Plasma Filaments might be used to provide agile, frequency-variable decoys to defeat imaging infra-red missile seekers.

I’ll have a go at explaining the technology, and how it is supposed to work, and then I’ll try and identify some of the elements which might be a bit tricky. I should explain that, despite having once funded, and observed the demonstration of, a quite impressive neutral particle beam, I am not a high-energy particle or optical physicist, so my explanations may be a little simplistic.

Lasers and Plasmas

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So, Laser-Induced Plasma Filaments (LIPF) – what are they, and how might they be used to generate decoys?

Lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) are, despite the complex expansion of the acronym, very familiar objects in today’s world. They are essentially a coherent light source that can be used for anything from entertaining your cat to measuring the distance to the moon, or, if you are old-fashioned enough, playing the music encoded on a Compact Disc.

Lasers have been being investigated as the basis of Directed Energy Weapons for some time, and these weapons themselves can vary considerably in nature. A common feature of the lasers employed in proposed lethal and non-lethal weapons systems is that they are much more powerful than those encountered in the hardware or stationery store serving as tape-measures or pointers to aid presentations.

The lasers used in the application covered by the Forbes article, and the US Navy Patent to which it refers, are pulsed at a very high frequency, and at high power, which allows them to generate plasma as they pass through air, and to exploit that plasma to form self-focussing beams and plasma filaments.

What is a plasma ? A plasma is a gas, which has been ionised, generally through the application of very high temperatures, and is therefore conductive. Ionisation refers to the stripping of electrons from the atoms of the gas. These conduct electrical currents, and the remaining positively charged atoms are the Ions of the element concerned. A natural example of a plasma is a lightning bolt, and a man-made example is a Neon sign.

Laser-Induced Plasma Filaments and Decoys

What does the US Navy Patent describe? The process starts with a very high-power, tunable, pulsed laser. By tunable, the Patent states that the laser wavelength, spatial and temporal (shape, duration and size) ‘and etc’ of the pulses can be varied. This variation allows plasmas to be produced which can emit spectra across a range of frequencies of interest, from Infra-Red through Visible to Ultra-Violet.

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At sufficiently high power, a process called the Kerr effect allows the laser to produce a self-focussed beam, or plasma column which has a small diameter and high intensity. Broadly speaking, a sufficiently high energy pulse, through the Kerr effect, causes the laser beam to focus to an energy level where a plasma is formed. This tends to de-focus the beam, which in turn reduces the degree of ionisation and allows the beam to re-focus. This repetitive process is referred to as self-guiding, and, when completed, results in the generation of a steerable, tunable plasma filament, which can then propagate out through the air as a LIPF.

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The emerging plasma beam can be rastered – i.e. scanned from side to side as in an old-fashioned TV set or cathode ray tube, and adjusted in distance, so that an apparent three-dimensional object can be created at a distance to the plasma projector, and it is this that creates the decoy. In principle the nature of the image, and its apparent frequency content can be adjusted to optimise the decoy, and it can be repositioned, essentially arbitrarily quickly. The distances achievable are said to be about 10 times greater than achievable without self-focussing of the beam.

The Forbes article in the link at the start of this item itself contains a link to a video apparently demonstrating the generation of images by a low-powered system.  The patent claims the ability to generate large ghost images as decoys, and suggests that multiple images could be produced. Reference is made to the use of a 248 nanometer, Krypton-Flourine excimer laser to generate the decoy images – this type of laser is in common use, suggesting that the patent is claiming to use available technologies.

Tricky Elements

The patent makes clear that the management of the laser, specifically the energy, pulse shape, duration and repetition rate, are critical in determining the nature of the plasma beam produced. It is claimed that the output decoy can have an extremely broad-spectrum response, from broadband to gamma rays. Generating and optimising the appropriate decoy spectrum is clearly one challenge.

Another will be the process of pointing and rastering to generate a coherent image, and then the management of that image so as to seduce the missile seeker to follow the decoy, and to maintain that lock-on to the point where the genuine target cannot be re-acquired.

A critical element of that image generation process is ensuring that the propagation range of the rastered plasma filaments making up the image is tightly controlled, otherwise coherence will be lost. This seems likely to require extremely precise control of the driving parameters of the laser system, and unsurprisingly, no explanation is provided of how this is to be achieved.

Patents, in general, seek to talk up the widest possible range of applications and attributes of the technology being patented. There are some suitably ambitious claims made in the patent, including the vast range of spectrum over which decoys could be produced, the range of electromagnetic systems which could be used as the basis of decoys, and the ability to generates decoys over an area large enough to protect a fleet of ships, or even a city.

Are plasma flares the basis of the UFOs?

Well, obviously, I don’t know. The technologies accessed in the paper appear plausible. The Kerr effect, self-focussing, and Laser induced plasma filaments are all real, and an afternoon spent cruising around the many available sources on the web will turn up a heap of other fascinating applications as well.

Can sufficiently credible images be constructed at a workable distance, and with the right attributes to decoy a missile? Again, I don’t know, but in principle, I don’t see why not, if the Tricky Elements (above) can be managed.

Hush-Kit asked physicist Brian Clegg for his opinion, he noted that “Clearly you can create a glow etc. by heating air – its effectively what lightning is – so the plasma filament idea seems entirely feasible. I’m not as sure about how you create a ball of plasma at a position in midair as lasers don’t stop (it’s the old light sabre problem).”

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Two aspects concern me. If this system works as advertised, and if it were mature enough to generate the images seen in the US Navy videos, it’s surprising that we have not seen something like this in service.  Similarly, I would have expected any promising system like this, related to new countermeasures against advanced IR seekers, would not be accessible through the open internet. The content of such a patent would be classified and only available to those with a need to know.

The UFO community also cite the apparent detection on radar of the UFO-like images in the released videos, as evidence that they are not plasma decoys; question why the patent would appear some years after the apparent use of a similar technology in the videos; and why such a technology would be trialled against evidently unbriefed Navy airmen.

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I have no answers to these points. One tantalising reason why a patent might appear in a public forum is that the technology is known to all the key players already, and the US is able to counter it.

Or else this is another disinformation effort to distract our attention from the real aliens. …

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8 comments

  1. Bing Chandler

    If you could focus LASERs that well at range, would it not be simpler to just target a missile’s seeker head, blinding it and solving the problem permanently rather than having to maintain a decoy image?

  2. OsintE

    Finally a good article on this, thanks for it.
    Just a small addition, numerous studies show that plasma not only is radar reflectant but its also pretty easy to modulate into responding more to specific frequencies. If the tech works, this decoys would go well beyond just infrared seekers.
    Also, some of the Navy UFO videos are from 2004, and reports about this tech being used trace back to the 80’s, so it could well be at high levels it was, sort of, deployed since pretty long time and given how game changing it was never revealed as it would have served little against non peer enemies. (plus, previous iterations could have been only vessel or land based, as opposed to patent which suggests the system to be installed on small planes).

    • Jim Smith

      Agree with all that. The Patent claims effectiveness in the RF. UFO folks draw attention to no other aircraft beibg present. Perhaps the UFOs were being projected by a ground-based system or a ship. If I had to bet on an intended platform for an airborne system today, I’d be looking at the Growler …

  3. Jim Smith

    That is already done, but the equipment is too bulky to be available for fighter aircraft. Have a look at @GbhvfRon’s Twitter account, and there are some recent pictures of a C-139, clearly showing the laser Directed Infra-Red Countermeasures (DIRCM) turrets on the sides of the rear fuselage.

  4. AndrewZ

    A device like that could be used to fool pilots and their targeting systems as well as missiles. But the only way to be sure if it can deceive or confuse a human being in real-world situations is to test it against “unbriefed” airmen and observe their reactions. There are likely precedents in some earlier UFO sightings that almost certainly describe Electronic Warfare tests.

    For example, in the UK in 1957 an F-86 pilot called Milton Torres was scrambled to intercept a huge radar target that suddenly vanished as he approached its location. He claimed that he was warned to say nothing about it. In the more famous “Kinross Incident” of 1953, a USAF F-89 was lost while searching for a mysterious target that was being tracked on radar from the ground. Both incidents happened at night so the targets could not be acquired visually, and both look very much like tests of how effectively “unbriefed” military personnel could be deceived by false radar images.

    Perhaps the USN has been doing similar tests with LIPF, but these days it’s a lot harder to control how information spreads.

  5. davidhambling

    Thanks for the shout. Keep digging and you will find much more.

    The Russian work on microwave-generated ‘plasmoids,’ Laser-generated guide stars and even HAARP stimulation to create ‘artificial auroras’ show that the effect is not limited to lasers. Watch the skies 🙂

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