May 172010
 
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The Pentagon ramps up efforts to field directed-energy beam weapons for land, air and sea

After more than a century of popular sci-fi fantasies that feature deadly energy weapons, including War of the Worlds, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Trek and Star Wars, it looks like the ray gun has finally arrived in the real world.

And even if the first ray guns out of the lab can barely fit on the bed of a 30-ton off-road truck rather than in a soldier’s palm, the novel, “speed-of-light” capabilities that lasers could bring to the battlefield has drawn the keen interest of the Pentagon brass, which spends about $400 million a year on directed-energy beam weapons.

At the end of this year, which marks a half-century of amazing progress in lasers, defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Boeing plan to test-fire a prototype mobile laser weapon against examples of the lethal ordnance—rockets, artillery, mortars—that insurgents in Afghanistan and elsewhere shoot at U.S. troops every day, says Mark Neice, director of the Department of Defense’s High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office in Albuquerque, N.M. As long as such an area-defense system is fed electrical power (from the grid or battery packs), its 100-kilowatt, solid-state, or electric, laser should be able to use its “unlimited magazine” of low-cost shots and ultra-precision tracking/targeting system to zap out of the air multiple inbound munitions from several kilometers away, he explains.

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