By: Matthew Juber
For many years science fiction has had one, almost iconic, weapon: The laser. Even though lasers (or light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) have been around for a while, they’ve never been utilized as a weapon, at least not practically. That’s about to change. The United States Air Force has recently begun testing energy weapons. While the most recent tests have only used about a 10-kilowatt laser (just one tenth of what’s considered battlefield strength) development is still proceeding, and tests have been mostly successful.
There have been several publicized tests, and they’ve been quite varied. Lasers have been tested mounted on trailers, aircraft, and humvees, and laser assault rifles are being developed. So far the most successful of these appears to be the Air Force’s “Laser Avenger”, which is a modified version of the Avenger anti-aircraft vehicle. While the battlefield tests have been using lower-wattage lasers, Northrop-Grumman has gone above and beyond, and developed a 105-kilowatt laser. This is achieved through laser “chaining” and they use seven 15-kilowatt lasers. They have enough room to add in an 8th as well, increasing the total power of the chain to 120 kilowatts, well above “battlefield strength.”
You would think that with dangerous new weapons like this, that there could be many possible bad scenarios stemming from their creation. While there are some truths to that, laser weapons also present many benefits. With energy weapons designed like this, they can have a lower-frequency option that allows for a non-lethal device to stop people. This means that instead of a soldier always having to “shoot first, ask later” they could instead, use the “stun” laser, which makes the target intense pain (but it does no permanent damage.) A device like this could potentially save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives per year. I guess that makes laser weapons a blessing and a curse.