Thursday, March 19, 2009

Military Lasers

Northrop has announced that it has passed the 100 Kw milestone in the quest to develop a really "weapons grade" laser for the battlefield.
The battlefield-strength breakthrough is just one part in a larger military push to finally make laser weapons a reality, after decades of unfulfilled promises. The Army recently gave Boeing a $36 million contract to build a laser-equipped truck. Raytheon is set to start test-firing a mortar-zapper of its own. Darpa is funding a 150 kilowatt laser project that is meant to be fitted onto "tactical aircraft."
All well and good, but the big show-stopper with lasers is not the power, as such, heck, I bought a 100 Kw model at a previous job to weld airbag inflators together. The problem is, as always, the power supply, which runs from several semi-trainers, to a warehouse. Chemical lasers don't have this problem, at least to the extent solid-state lasers do, but they have other problems. Imagine the exhaust fumes from something that runs on Fluorine, for example.

If you don't mind venting toxic gasses out the tailpipe of your "tactical aircraft" (think converted wide-body), a 5 Mw unit is awaiting deployment at Sandia right now. It's a leftover from the "Star Wars" programs of the 80s.

Still, it's good to hear that programs like this are still moving forward. You never know when an errant ballistic missile er... satellite launcher from N. Korea may need to be zapped before it plunges to earth in L.A.

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