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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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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.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller
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