Saturday, July 19, 2008

No Laser Blasters. Yet.

by Shane Ennerson

Despite what you may read in this morning's Telegraph, "Star Wars-style technology" is not, in fact, "about to take to the battlefield for the first time." Nor is "laser beam technology... being rushed into service to combat the threat of insurgent missiles and mortars raining down on British and American military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan."

That said, there are things afoot in the ray gun world -- important developments which could lead to a "laser weapon that can actually work and perform a military mission," as Bill Sweetman at Ares puts it.

In June 2006, in tests at Sandia National Laboratories, ray gun researchers at Raytheon did something extraordinary. It had been accepted wisdom in the laser community that 100 kilowatts was the minimum power required for battlefield-strength blasters -- a level that hasn't been hit (yet). But in these tests, the Raytheon crew managed to zap a couple of mortar rounds, using a bundle of fiber lasers that only had 20 kilowatts of power. Not only that, it's beam quality was terrible: Spread out all over the place, instead of in a nice, tight spot. So how did they pull it off? It turns out that the laser's weakness -- its lousy beam quality -- was also its strength. By spreading out the laser's spot, the weapon has able to heat the mortar up -- and cause it to explode. Think of it like an explosive potato, left too long in a laser oven.

Green laser module

About the Author

Freelance writer working for Dragonlasers at

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