The United States Army has been beta testing a new laser technique in the Pacific. The prototype, which they began testing last April, has been progressing smoothly since the first days of inception. Quietly in the wee morning hours they fired on an ‘enemy’ vessel with their Maritime Laser Demonstration Program.
This laser only has about 100kw of power, effective, but unimpressive. This is because we’re used to seeing photon torpedoes and Star Trek phasers blasting enemies to smithereens. While those are plenty powerful enough to shoot down enemy helicopters and space ships, our technology on Earth just hasn’t quite reached that potential…yet.
However, this latest test shows great potential as it’s the first ‘direct energy’ weapon to be installed on Navy Warships. It’s also the first of its kind to utilize the radar to zero in and eliminate the target.
Although we’re finally making great strides in the field, the concept has been around for centuries. The ancient Greeks spoke of Archimedes and his ‘heat ray’. This legendary heat ray was rumored to harness the power of the sun and focus that energy via strategically placed mirrors. This contraption has been credited with setting enemy ships aflame during the 3rd century BC siege of Syracuse.
A little closer to modern day, in the 1930s scientists in Britain were said to have been researching death-ray technology. This was using radio waves to take down enemy fighter planes. The use of radio waves proved advantageous for detecting the position of the enemy aircraft, and they worked very well for the British armed forces in the War. This led to the invention of radars and accompanying technology.
Next, in the 70s and 80s the United States Army began tooling with technologies that would make it possible to shoot down ballistic missiles that were armed with nuclear warheads. Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative incorporated x-ray lasers, honing the atomic force energy into the laser beam. Unfortunately, in that development stage it was realized just how much energy was needed to detonate an atomic bomb every time the laser was needed. Therefore the idea was quickly shelved.
One good offshoot of this dead end was the research it spurned for using energy beams as weapons. Since energy beams travel at the speed of light, they should theoretically hit their target every time. This unfortunately led to the other realization that ‘hitting a bullet with a bullet’ is nearly an insurmountable task. It’s one that we’re still trying to overcome today.
One of the biggest drawbacks of laser technology, as Ronald Reagan learned, is the immense amount of energy needed to fire a weaponized laser. To shoot down a missile today, a laser would need a megawatt of power, per pulse. That would effectively wipe out a few states’ worth of the power grid for one shot.
Also, even after the amount of power necessary to shoot the laser beam, some of the particles would be lost to dissipation. Pollutants in the air would scatter the beam, causing it to lose effectiveness before it reaches the target. It would also cause a potential hazard as that deflected beam has to go somewhere.
So we’re still well on our way toward setting our phasers to something better than stun. We just have a bit more research and practice shots before we get there.
Luckily there’s no shortage of technological breakthroughs and people with deep wallets. Maybe not in our lifetime, but definitely soon, we’ll see some real Star Wars type weapons being used in wars and space travel.
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