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Laser weaonry may not be that far away from tomorrow's battlefields.  (Source: Wired, Danger Room)
The U.S. will possibly field man-sized portable laser weapons in coming years

One of the cornerstones of science fiction films and books is the laser rifle. The U.S. has spent millions of dollars trying to field laser weapons to do all sorts of tasks and, according to some analysts, we are getting close to fielding man portable laser weapons.

Time Magazine tells the story about developments in laser weaponry, circa 1972. Many of us are familiar with the laser weapons that are being designed to stop ballistic missiles before the warhead can separate from the missile body. These tend to be very large lasers that are mounted on trucks or inside specially outfitted aircraft.

One type of laser weapon that has yet to materialize is the man-sized portable laser. The lasers were described as being able to burn a quarter-inch hole in an enemy solider from as far away as five miles.  And, unlike Star Wars, real world lasers leave no visible trail.

The weapon would be a snipers dream since the laser beam would travel at the speed of light; once the target was in the sights, a hit was ensured. Another benefit of portable laser weapons is the fact that a laser beam follows a flat trajectory rather than a curving arc like a projectile. Gravity has practically no effect on a laser beam, so lining up a shot at extreme distances is much easier to do with a laser rifle than with a projectile weapon.

These laser weapons have yet to materialize and with the drawbacks of chemical laser technology, namely the storage of corrosive chemicals and harmful fumes resulting from the laser operation, who knows when or if man portable laser weapons will be perfected.

Chemical lasers get energy from a rapid chemical reaction and obtain continuous wave with power at the megawatt level. Common types of chemical lasers used in drilling and military applications include chemical oxygen iodine laser, all gas-phase iodine laser, and deuterium fluoride laser.  Almost all laser-based weapons to date have been chemical based.

Yet there are still some laser weapon technologies that could bring the long dreamed of laser gun to fruition. Solid-state lasers, the oldest and most mature types of lasers, are one of the more viable options since they don’t require corrosive chemicals to produce the laser beam. The solid-state laser simply requires a supply of electricity to produce a beam, and only needs enough power for a single pulse rather than a continuous beam.

Current solid-state lasers are used for everything from tattoo removal to optical refrigeration. However, unlike gas and chemical lasers, solid-state lasers cannot achieve megawatt capabilities without vast amounts of electricity -- not practical for mobile forces.  Yet kilowatt lasers may be enough for soldiers on the ground. 

From Boeing's $7 million High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator, to Northrop Grumman's $57 million Joint High Power Solid State Laser, 100kW portable solid-state lasers can now fit the size of a truck.

According to Wired we cold see solid-state pulse lasers fielded by U.S. soldiers in as little as two years. Of course, according to the Time's 1972 article on laser technology, man-sized portable laser weapons would have been viable for a decade now.

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Power Source
By acer905 on 8/28/2007 8:23:37 AM , Rating: 2
Just a thought, but how much power could a cigarette pack sized nuclear reactor produce? Or perhaps one that is the same size and shape as a modern clip is. Make it even install the same way as a clip too...

RE: Power Source
By Master Kenobi on 8/28/2007 8:45:08 AM , Rating: 2
Hard to say since nuclear reactors are all steam turbine based and use heat to spin the turbines and generate the power.

It could be as easy as a battery pack that sits where a clip would be, and the battery pack uses a form factor similiar to a clip. Simply eject old battery, install new one. Carry in your backpacks a small mobile charger that lets u recharge your packs from a standard power outlet. I think you would only need the battery to hold up to say maybe 100 shots. The battery packs would likely be smaller than a traditional ammo clip but probably about as heavy depending on battery density. Have each soldier carry his little charging station in his backpack and maybe 5 spare battery packs for his rifle, plus the one already locked and loaded.

Ahhh, good times.

RE: Power Source
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 11:18:50 AM , Rating: 2
Ya, it would be great if they used off the self technology if at all possible. I would be great if their gun ran out of ammo and they just had to go pick up a car battery or even AAA batteries. Highly doubly they have the energy density to power tattoo removing laser, but how could would it be for the marines to invade a wall mart in the middle of a fire fight, and demand they give them ammunition. The clerk asked what caliber and they say double A please!

RE: Power Source
By rcc on 8/28/2007 12:25:43 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget the solar cells on top of the backpack to trickle charge the power packs. And, for satellite sniping, an umbrella like affair to protect the soldier. If they do it right, the cells on the umbrella would convert the laser energy to recharge power packs as well.

So, orders from the General, open fire with the satellites.... no, no, at our guys, they are running low on ammo!!

RE: Power Source
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 1:15:04 PM , Rating: 2
wouldn't that also be a large heat signature as well as reflector? Sounds like a dead give away to your position.

RE: Power Source
By rcc on 8/28/2007 4:18:52 PM , Rating: 2
Well, if they are low on ammo, they are probably in contact.

But, if you make a perfect converter there would be no reflected heat. : )

RE: Power Source
By energy1man on 8/28/2007 1:54:43 PM , Rating: 2
Radioisotope thermoelectric generator:

No steam needed. Reduce to backpack size, get higher efficiency pulsed lasers, possibly improve efficiency of generators, will be good to go. Granted not every soldier will be toting one, but specialized teams yes.

RE: Power Source
By Master Kenobi on 8/28/2007 4:12:31 PM , Rating: 2
I had considered it but it would be pretty heavy even in backpack size.

Maybe in an aircraft, but on the ground only as a turret or 50 cal tripod. Be very heavy otherwise.

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings
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