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  (Source: Gonzalo Arias)
A laser induced plasma channel guides the lightning bolt until it reaches the target

LIPC stands for The Laser-Induced Plasma Channel, but for all intents and purposes, it might as well stand for "lightning gun".  

The project combines two of the coolest things known to man -- lightning and lasers -- and turns them into one mean superweapon, which could soon be capable of unleashing devastating damage at mid-range to close-quarters.

George Fischer, U.S. Army Picatinny Arsenal lead scientist is heading the project.  He describes:

Light travels more slowly in gases and solids than it does in a vacuum.  We typically think of the speed of light in each material as constant. There is, however, a very small additional intensity-dependent factor to its speed. In air, this factor is positive, so light slows down by a tiny fraction when the light is more intense."

If a laser puts out a pulse with modest energy, but the time is incredibly tiny, the power can be huge.  During the duration of the laser pulse, it can be putting out more power than a large city needs, but the pulse only lasts for two-trillionths of a second."

For very powerful and high intensity laser pulses, the air can act like a lens, keeping the light in a small-diameter filament.  We use an ultra-short-pulse laser of modest energy to make a laser beam so intense that it focuses on itself in air and stays focused in a filament.

The optical amplifier outputs 50 billion watts of optical power -- about the equivalent of 500 million household incandescent light bulbs.  The focused beam in turn creates a plasma channel, which electricity can be directed along to create manmade, targeted lightning.  Describes Fischer:

If a laser beam is intense enough, its electro-magnetic field is strong enough to rip electrons off of air molecules, creating plasma.  This plasma is located along the path of the laser beam, so we can direct it wherever we want by moving a mirror.

Air is composed of neutral molecules and is an insulator.  When lightning from a thunderstorm leaps from cloud to ground, it behaves just as any other sources of electrical energy and follows the path of least resistance.

The plasma channel conducts electricity way better than un-ionized air, so if we set up the laser so that the filament comes near a high voltage source, the electrical energy will travel down the filament.

Since enemy vehicles and munitions tend to be more conductive than the ground they sit on, they create voltage drop that channels the lightning out of the beam and into the target.  Unexploded munitions will detonate.

The high voltage laser requires precise synchronization.  One wrong move could lead it to destroy itself.  Describes Fischer, "If the light focuses in air, there is certainly the danger that it will focus in a glass lens, or in other parts of the laser amplifier system, destroying it.  We needed to lower the intensity in the optical amplifier and keep it low until we wanted the light to self-focus in air."
Lightning weapon
LIPC hits a car with a lightning bolt, during a test. [Image Source: U.S. Army]

The new twist on the laser weapon may soon join high-power direct laser weapons and devastating rail guns on the battlefield.

Early tests in January 2012 proved quite successful, according to the researcher.  He says much work still remains in ruggedizing the prototype for operational environments, and enabling it to take multiple shots.

But he adds, "We never got tired of the lightning bolts zapping our simulated (targets)."

Source: U.S. Army

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By BigEdMan on 6/28/2012 5:36:48 PM , Rating: 1
So let's say mount 10 of these in a satellite with independent GPS targeting. You then target electrical substations, communication relays or other important targets. Could be particularly nasty if you can compensate for passing through the atmosphere.

RE: Ouch!
By Schmide on 6/28/2012 6:30:35 PM , Rating: 5
The lack of atmosphere in space will kind of make this useless?

RE: Ouch!
By ViroMan on 6/28/2012 10:21:10 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't the lack of atmosphere an improvement on the design? Strike from far FAR away without getting retaliation. In space there will be no resistance for the electricity.(no near conductor either but, with a substantial voltage you can jump any distance.) The only problem is that in space that makes its target VERY far away.. its going to have to put out a megawatt or two to reach down to the atmosphere(its soon to be electrical conductor) where the laser will then start to work on it and the electricity can follow through the newly made path.

That is JUST for the electricity. What about the laser? The laser would now have to be substantially more powerful. Lasers weapons are short range unless you dump a substantial amount of juice in it. It will also still have to be capable of operating at such a blindingly fast on off state.

RE: Ouch!
By rs2 on 6/29/2012 1:05:30 AM , Rating: 2
The only way you can have electricity "flowing" through vacuum is using an electron beam (or an absurd amount of voltage). While such a thing might be possible, the effect would be quite different than the lightning shown in the article. For one thing it wouldn't arc through the target on its way to the ground, frying internal circuitry as it goes. It would either pass straight through the target, or simply cause the target to start accumulating a negative charge. And besides, if you want a weapon based on a charged-particle beam it makes more sense to use protons rather than electrons. They're much more massive. Then you'd basically have a directed plasma weapon.

The thing that makes the lightning gun practical within the atmosphere is that a brief laser pulse ionizes the air between the weapon and its target, creating a positively-charged conduit through which an electric current can flow relatively easily. You can't use that same trick in a vacuum, and without a suitable conduit to flow through it is much, much harder to get any significant amount of current to travel any significant distance.

The extremely high resistance of empty space makes inducing any sort of spontaneous flow of electrical current impractical over large distances. You'd probably get better results taking the same amount of energy and using it to drive a railgun or similar weapon.

RE: Ouch!
By FaaR on 6/29/2012 5:30:42 AM , Rating: 2
I don't see how this "lightning gun" would make electricity arc through a target and fry anything. You shoot lightning (laser-guided or not) at a metal vehicle and it's going to behave just like any old lightning bolt since the beginning of time; discharge straight into ground. Maybe it'd make a black spot in the paintjob, but that'd be it.

Metal bodywork functions like a Fahraday cage, protecting whatever's inside. Only way lightning could destroy a vehicle would be if they built it out of thin sheets of plastic or such. Or possibly, if you had like bombs or artillery rounds stacked in unprotected magazines outside the vehicle (like, err, an artillery gun), and you managed to hit the ammunition directly. Of course, a sheet metal box around the explosives would be 100% effective in protecting against such attacks.

No, this weapon would be much more effective against people than it would vehicles. Of course, it could be hard to say that outright, which is why we might have this guy quoted in the article waffling about killing vehicles and so on.

RE: Ouch!
By omnicronx on 6/29/2012 12:18:44 PM , Rating: 2
I don't see how this "lightning gun" would make electricity arc through a target and fry anything. You shoot lightning (laser-guided or not) at a metal vehicle and it's going to behave just like any old lightning bolt since the beginning of time; discharge straight into ground. Maybe it'd make a black spot in the paintjob, but that'd be it.
ALL lightning arcs as it passes from the clouds to the ground via the path of least resistance, so I'm not sure what your little rant about 'any old lightning' was about.

All that this device does is use a laser to carve a path of least resistance that the energy will follow. There have been numerous experiments using the same concepts for years.

As for the experiment, I think they were just using something far more conductive than the objects around it, they never stated they actually disabled the vehicle (in fact the lights are still on in the picture).

That guess is that if a vehicle has not been designed to completely insulate the interior from the exterior, it would most likely become venerable to such an attack. A tank, (or even you reaching out and touching the dash in a car while you are hit) would fall under that category. The large EM pulse associated with the strike could also disable electronics either way.

It could also be useful in disabling EID's and landmines.

Not all strikes are created equal either. I've seen a car get a small mark, and I've seen a car become completely disabled. All depends on the situation, the vehicle, and the occupants.

RE: Ouch!
By Bad-Karma on 6/29/12, Rating: 0
RE: Ouch!
By Adonlude on 6/29/2012 2:15:21 PM , Rating: 3
You are owie my brain meat! Please don't teach quantum physics until you understand the difference between an electron and a photon and the difference between vacuum and that invisible stuff between power lines on an Earth based power station.

Too big
By MegaHustler on 6/28/2012 5:13:49 PM , Rating: 3
It's too big to be practical. Just give me a phased plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range.

RE: Too big
By johnsmith9875 on 6/28/2012 5:21:38 PM , Rating: 4
Hey just what you see here pal.

RE: Too big
By CubicleDilbert on 6/30/2012 7:23:40 AM , Rating: 2
Talk to the hand!

RE: Too big
By Bad-Karma on 6/29/2012 11:46:49 AM , Rating: 2

Just because it's a new technology with little direct application doesn't mean you should immediately write it off. The first computers were warehouse size machines. 60-70 years later and you can put one in your pocket.

Loved the Terminator reference though......

Official nickname?
By Apone on 6/28/2012 4:35:59 PM , Rating: 5
Would be super awesome if this new weapon was code-named "Mjolnir".....

RE: Official nickname?
By inperfectdarkness on 7/3/2012 2:39:12 AM , Rating: 2


By Amiga500 on 6/28/2012 5:31:42 PM , Rating: 2
I can build Tesla coils to keep those bloody americans off my base!!

RE: Finally....
By mudduck454 on 6/28/2012 8:26:27 PM , Rating: 2
Coils, I think we might get tesla troopers first, then maybe a tesla tank, before we will see the towers.

wow sad to admit but I still play c&c RA2 and this is what i thought about when I read this article

RE: Finally....
By Bad-Karma on 6/29/2012 11:48:24 AM , Rating: 2
All your base are belong to us!

Ion Cannon?
By Obujuwami on 6/28/2012 5:07:47 PM , Rating: 2
I want my Ion cannon damnit! Where is it?!?

RE: Ion Cannon?
By leviathan05 on 6/29/2012 8:23:43 AM , Rating: 2
In a galaxy far, far away.

By therealgras on 6/28/2012 8:44:22 PM , Rating: 2
Red Alert weapons are becoming a reality.

RE: Finally
By Ramtech on 6/29/2012 3:48:45 AM , Rating: 2
They still lagging though Chronosphere and Iron Curtain are nowhere in sight

Forgive me for pointing out the obvious
By Dribble on 6/29/2012 5:52:11 AM , Rating: 2
If you shoot something metal, like say a car or a tank, with electricity it just travels through the metal into the ground and pretty well 0 damage. I think top gear did that once - have someone drive around while their card got electrocuted, eventually the electrics fried (after a dozen or so hits) but driver and car were otherwise fine.

More wasted money...

By Fritzr on 6/29/2012 9:38:59 AM , Rating: 2
Aluminum aircraft skins are considered a safety feature. A plane hit by lightning looks spectactular as the bolt strikes, then exits the other side of the plane and continues to the ground. The metal skin is the conductor with the interior never seeing an effect.

By quiksilvr on 6/28/2012 4:07:09 PM , Rating: 3
50 Billion Watts?
By leviathan05 on 6/28/2012 4:14:34 PM , Rating: 1
What a joke.
Where's my 1.21 Gigawatts?

RE: 50 Billion Watts?
By Schmide on 6/28/2012 4:42:37 PM , Rating: 2
Wouldn't 50 billions watts equal 43 x 1.21 Jiggawatts?

District 9
By johnsmith9875 on 6/28/2012 5:21:15 PM , Rating: 2
Not a great movie, but the lightning bolt gun was epic. My personal preference though was that white pulse gun he fired at the Nigerians.

Great lead-in
By 1tremor on 6/28/2012 7:37:10 PM , Rating: 2
I will jump at any opportunity to use the word SMITE.

Dr. Evil
By Etsp on 6/28/2012 8:07:15 PM , Rating: 2
You're telling me they got laser beams with lightning bolts attached to their heads?!

Wouldn't it be possible...
By Qapa on 6/28/2012 9:01:06 PM , Rating: 2
... to direct lightning bolts to capture them and their energy?

Would this in fact create more energy than the energy spent?

This would be another interesting alternative to current renewable energy sources. Yes, yes, you don't get lightning everyday and all, but maybe it is / will be cheap enough to be interesting to use, when lightnings could occur...

Terran researchs Psi Storm?!?
By akenaton on 6/29/2012 7:08:56 PM , Rating: 2
Or that's the first thing I thought when I read this.

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
By bupkus on 7/1/2012 6:59:13 PM , Rating: 2
Lightning storms will be our friend.

By interested in light on 7/7/2012 6:20:30 AM , Rating: 2
A lightning laser magnetically-pinched-nuclear-fusion power-generator is described in the Nasa Create The Future Design Engineering Contest entry May 17, 2012 where a lightning laser is used to capture real lightning from the sky which is then used to ignite nuclear fusion reactions! An artificial lightning spark generated by a tesla coil is conducted along ionized channels of air which were ionized by an ultraviolet or other lasers into the clouds and ionosphere to discharge available real lightning which then travels down the lightning laser ionized path beam to a magnetically confined nuclear fusion generator. The captured real lightning is transformed to higher amperages which are used to magnetically pinch deuterium-tritium creating supersonic shock waves which compress and ignite the tritium fuel while it is confined in a magnetic bottle. Heat generated is used to produce steam for a steam turbine which rotates an electric generator to power the grid. This seems to be a suggested peacefull application of a both deadly and non-lethal weapon that could vaporize missiles, detonate improvised explosive devices, control crowds, shoot terrorists from remotely piloted aerial vehicles, and decrease death from police accidents.

Military application?
By kb9fcc on 6/28/12, Rating: -1
RE: Military application?
By BigEdMan on 6/28/2012 5:41:12 PM , Rating: 5
Civilian sedan ARE military targets. That's what people drive to weddings...

RE: Military application?
By Spuke on 6/28/2012 6:37:05 PM , Rating: 2
Civilian sedan ARE military targets. That's what people drive to weddings...

RE: Military application?
By rs2 on 6/28/2012 8:01:01 PM , Rating: 2
There are no military targets. Only targets. Targets that will tremble in fear as their new master hands down edicts (and lightning bolts) in my glorious, booming voice!

RE: Military application?
By EricMartello on 6/28/2012 10:17:10 PM , Rating: 3
This device is how obamacare is going to be enforced.

RE: Military application?
By FaaR on 6/29/2012 5:16:53 AM , Rating: 2
Hyperbole much?

In case you were trying to be funny: I didn't laugh.

RE: Military application?
By EricMartello on 6/29/2012 6:57:50 AM , Rating: 1
Noted: Incorrect use of the word hyperbole.

RE: Military application?
By Reclaimer77 on 6/28/2012 8:03:35 PM , Rating: 2
What do you think this is going to do? Blow a car up? It's just going to kill the engine. It's probably just some old ass Taurus they had available. They aren't testing it against "civilian targets".

Also if you have been paying attention, lots of civilian stuff is being used against our soldiers in the Middle East. Some guy with a car full of explosives tries pulling an "ALLAH ACKBAAAAA" on a roadblock or Army base, ZAP, engine fried. Game over.

Come on hippie, don't read so much into this. They aren't planning targets.

RE: Military application?
By ViroMan on 6/28/2012 10:08:46 PM , Rating: 3
Don't you mean... ZAP BOOM. What ever bombs he had, blow up?

RE: Military application?
By chµck on 6/28/2012 10:40:40 PM , Rating: 2
gotta reduce the budget somehow.
tanks are expensive.

RE: Military application?
By impinchi on 6/29/2012 8:47:14 AM , Rating: 2
+1, thank you for bringing up some fact

RE: Military application?
By Natch on 6/29/2012 7:40:28 AM , Rating: 2
Never heard of a car bomb? Which rock, exactly, did you just crawl out from under??

RE: Military application?
By kattanna on 6/29/2012 11:14:39 AM , Rating: 1
who is the planned for target again?

there are no civilians anymore over the age of 18, as we have re-classified them all as enemy combatants

Sure looks like a civilian sedan to me

its actually a new stealth terrorist attack vehicle


"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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