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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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By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 9:47:28 AM , Rating: 2
I remember back in the 80's they were making lasers to shoot down incoming artillery and missiles. It was scraped, however, because of a low tech method of polishing the missiles and ballistic shells to a high finish and reflecting and refracting most of the radiant heat energy. What is to prevent the same thing now? It is because of the operating frequency is above the visual light band and therefore not as susceptible to being deflected in such a manor? The rules of light and photons have never made sense to me, if someone could explain why refraction and deflection wouldn't be cheap and easy for defeating lasers, that would rock!

RE: Refelction?
By zsouthboy on 8/28/2007 9:58:03 AM , Rating: 2
Lasers don't have to be in the visible spectrum.

RE: Refelction?
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 9:59:36 AM , Rating: 2
I didn't say they had to be. Readers comprehension?

RE: Refelction?
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 9:58:32 AM , Rating: 2
In addition, lasers made poor weapons as rifles because a large portion of death from small arms combat is from internal bleeding and organ failure. Lasers cause wounds to cauterize and preventing it from being a fatal wound, potentially. So where you may be DOB accurate with your shot, unless you slice your target in to two half's, there is a better chance of him living that with a projectile.

RE: Refelction?
By therealnickdanger on 8/28/2007 11:00:09 AM , Rating: 2
I was thinking hard about that - as grotesque as that seems - and you would have to be a really good shot in order to guarantee a kill. Obviously a gaping, cauterized wound in the head or heart will be fatal, but I'm really curious how the body would respond to wounds that would otherwise "bleed out". A bullet has little trouble shattering bone or ripping apart organs, but this weapon would clearly not allow for bleeding or any kind. The best you could "hope for" would be a severe clotting of an artery or something. I'm sure the shock (from pain) alone might kill some people.

Also, if they can produce single-shot devices like this, there is no reason they can't produce a machine-gun-like device, or ultimately just a sweeping, continuous beam which would slice through the battlefield.

RE: Refelction?
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 11:12:10 AM , Rating: 2
There is an element that I didn't consider with a sniper variant of this type of weapons technology. No sound or mussel flash (or not visible to the naked eye). Most of the times, the reason you can throw 100 snipers in an area is due to the fact they need areas to hide and relocate to after shots are fired. With this kind of technology. You could deliver sniper shots the way they were intended, in complete stealth. Assuming you could get out shots as fast as a normal sniper rife, you could deliver several of the questionable lethality shots without reviling yourself. Means you could more easily pack more snipers in an area. That is a ramification that I hadn't quite considered. Though, I think the lethality at this point is still highly questionable at this point.

I would be interesting if they might have found a frequency of the EM band that cuts more than it burns. If this is the case, then they might have a very lethal weapon indeed.

RE: Refelction?
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/28/2007 11:40:40 AM , Rating: 2
Doh, a lesson in proofreading. Bad grammar and mis-wordings abounds above, my apologies.

RE: Refelction?
By therealnickdanger on 8/28/2007 1:32:14 PM , Rating: 3
Long before this technology actually gets in the hands of sniper teams, I suspect much testing will go toward implementing the technology in UAVs. Not only would they have insane range due to elevation, but greater mobility. Untraceable UAV snipers? *shudder*

It would be incredible, really, to be walking next to someone and then from no observable reason, he collapses dead right next to you. You shake him to see what's wrong, only to find that you can clearly see the sidewalk through a smoldering, quarter-sized hole his head. No distant, echoing gunshot, no trace of any kind. Before you can seek out a culprit, your world goes black.

Also curious is how long it would take for a technology like this to filter down to the common man - er, well, the "motivated" common man. No calibers or rilfing, no spent shells or gunpowder residue. It would making tracking a murderer extremely difficult.

RE: Refelction?
By 16nm on 8/28/2007 2:05:50 PM , Rating: 2
Ah yes, this sounds exactly like what the world needs. Frankly, I don't see how we've survived this long without laser guns.

Tomorrow, I'm going to start a company that makes hats with mirrors glued to them.

RE: Refelction?
By rcc on 8/28/2007 12:16:51 PM , Rating: 2
But, bear in mind that it is often better to provide the enemy with wounded to care for. It clogs up the logistics. Also, it limits the supply of martyrs.

RE: Refelction?
By FastLaneTX on 8/28/2007 1:30:52 PM , Rating: 2
A dead soldier takes one soldier out of action; a wounder soldier takes three. That's why the .223 round is used in the M-16: it tumbles in the air to create larger wounds, but it's small enough it won't kill most people it hits.

And yes, leaving those fanatical nutjobs alive will make them less interested in fighting us, since they won't be martyrs but rather prisoners.

RE: Refelction?
By rcc on 8/28/2007 4:16:48 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Refelction?
By SilthDraeth on 8/28/2007 4:57:54 PM , Rating: 2
I want proof that .223 tumbles in the air to create larger wounds. I have fired the M-16, AR-15 (same thing basically) and a Galil, not at humans, but at targets, and the point of entry was always a perfect little hole, just like using a .22LR.

I call bullshit on your theory of the .223. As for a wounded soldier removing at least three, that is accurate.

RE: Refelction?
By Ajax9000 on 8/28/2007 8:36:51 PM , Rating: 2
Try and track down a copy of the The Stockholm Peace Research Institute's "Anti-personnel Weapons" by Malvern Lumsden (published 1978?). It goes into detail regarding the differences between the 7.62mm and 5.56mm rounds.

Basically, the 7.62mm rounds are sufficently big and heavy that they generally punch straight through the body before tumbling (full metal jacket military rounds). The 5.56mm rounds are smaller and lighter and generally tumble within the body creating greater trauma -- in fact the tumbling forces can be sufficent to rip apart a full metal jacket round (leaving lots of fragments to remove from the victim).

The book reports that, all-in-all, 5.56mm rounds are more lethal due to this greater trauma.

RE: Refelction?
By SilthDraeth on 8/29/2007 9:53:27 AM , Rating: 2
The book reports that, all-in-all, 5.56mm rounds are more lethal due to this greater trauma.

Ok so tumbling within. I guess I misunderstood his statement.

But your last line somewhat contradicts his post. If it is more lethal do to more trauma, then it was probably chosen for that reason, not to inflict more wounded upon the enemy.

But who knows, it could be either way.

RE: Refelction?
By Ajax9000 on 8/29/2007 8:06:04 PM , Rating: 2
I was partly agreeing and partly disagreeing with FastLaneTX as his post was rather muddled -- e.g. the implication that small wounds from big bullets are more lethal than big wounds from small bullets!? :-)

RE: Refelction?
By rmaharaj on 8/28/2007 10:44:28 PM , Rating: 2
You say 5.56mm rounds won't kill most people they hit... do you want to volunteer to test that out?

Sure, 5.56mm doesn't have the range or armor-penetrating capability or 7.62mm, but that doesn't mean it's not extremely lethal. I'd love to hear what you think of pistol rounds, is the MP5 just a glorified stun gun?

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