Science fiction fans and generals alike have long fantasized about what it'd be like to have a laser weapon at their command. Now at last such dreams are nearing reality. After years of steady milestone progress, military contractor Northrop Grumman has reached a significant mark -- the first 100 kW steady-state laser.
The laser is part of the Joint High-Powered Solid State Laser Phase 3 Program, which combines 8 lasers in chain fashion to create a "superlaser" of sorts. Each laser can deliver up to 15.3 kW individually and is about the size of a large briefcase. Together they form a unit about the size of a couple garbage dumpsters stacked together, which can deliver a peak beam of 105.5 kW. The device has operated continuously for 5 minutes, a major landmark in integrity.
The beam quality is an impressive 3.0 or better, and full power is reached in 0.6 seconds.
At 100 kW, the laser is capable of delivering a military-ready deadly beam. The unit could see deployment aboard next-generation battleships and cruisers or aboard large aircraft. States a company release, "In fact, many militarily useful effects can be achieved by laser weapons of 25 kW or 50 kW, provided this energy is transmitted with good beam quality, as our system does."
However, the relatively large weight and high power requirements remain obstacles to deploying the lethal laser.
Northrop Grumman is not satisfied with the significant breakthrough. They want to continue to shrink the device so that one day it might be portable on the battlefield. Dan Wildt, vice president of Northrop's directed energy systems program, adds, "It is still a little heavy and a little big."