Boeing Tests Laser Weapons for Defense Against Terrorist Threats

Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 1:44PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 1:44PM
Could Star Wars laser weapons or Star Trek phasers become a reality? Boeing is currently developing directed-energy weapons for the U.S. army that are capable of blasting mortars and small rockets out of the sky, and may be eventually be used to combat terrorist threats.

Using the latest prototype, Boeing has been able to use laser weapons to successfully detonate a mortar in mid-air before it reaches its target. The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) doesn't necessarily look like a phaser, as the beam is invisible, but the concept is the same; it fires a beam of infrared light, or directed energy, at its target from the top of a truck. Boeing electrophysics engineer Stephanie Blount, who completed the tests, characterized the weapon as having a "very game-like feel," as she directs the laser using a hand-held controller while ascertaining the location of the targets on her laptop screen.

In the past, laser weapons were considered to be unfeasible because any machine that could direct energy with enough power at a small enough point to do real damage were too large and clunky to use on the battlefield. But the advent of a new kind of laser, the fiber optics laser, may solve these problems. Where previous laser technology used large rods, slabs, or discs of crystal in order to generate the energy, these state-of-the-art weapons use thin optical fibers, and as a result can be much more compact.

Boeing Tests Laser Weapons to Defend Against Terrorist Attacks

"It's a very cost-effective solution to taking out cheaply made weapons like small mortars or rockets made out of sewer pipe," Blount told Scientific American. According to Boeing, these prototype laser weapons will be ready for deployment by the U.S. military in the very near future.

Boeing is not alone in thinking that real-life laser weapons are imminent: "After a nearly half-century quest, the US military today is on the cusp of finally fielding operationally relevant directed-energy weapons," wrote Paul Scharre, an advanced-technology specialist at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), in a recent report on laser weapons.

However, some are a little more skeptical of the so-called "coming-of-age" of laser weapons: "They're not yet the Star Trek phaser," said Michael Carter, a programme manager for photon science at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "Don't mistake what they're doing... for a new strategic superiority. It may be the first step in that direction but it's not going to change the game by itself."
Science of Sci-Fi

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