Real-Life Laser Rifle: Army Goal


April 27, 2007, 05:13 PM

Real-Life Laser Rifle: Army Goal
The Army is looking at its Plasma Acoustic Shield System as a checkpoint defender, for now. But the original idea -- and the long-term goal of the project -- is to have it be the first baby step towards a portable, lethal laser weapon.

The effort, by the U.S. Army’s Advanced Energy Armaments Systems Division and Stellar Photonics, has a lot in common with another military laser project: the Pulsed Energy Projectile being developed by Mission Systems for the Marines. But there are three key differences. The current PEP is a big (450 lb) chemical laser with a limited number of shots, whereas PASS is a small solid-state laser that just needs electricity. The PEP creates plasma by ablating the surface it hits (such as your shirt), whereas PASS and create plasma in mid-air by focusing to a point. And PEP fired a single pulse, whereas PASS uses a double pulse which Stellar claim is far more efficient at creating a shockwave.

You can get some idea from the Small Business Initiative Proposal the company submitted in ‘04 for a "Man-portable Integrated Laser Assault Rifle":

These systems would be portable and lightweight; the battery operated solid state laser system would be comparable in size to the Armbrust and Dragon anti-tank systems, …. The man-portable... weapons system is expected to be lethal in the range of 1-5 miles, due to the fact that no sharp focusing of the laser beam is required. Therefore, it is capable of engaging both short and long ranged targets of any kind, greatly increasing the engagement area of current assault rifles.

NOTE: The same system can also be used in non-lethal area denial to personnel applications. A pulse laser force field (shock wave) can be initiated instantaneously to prevent personnel from restricted areas.

Which all sounds good -- on paper. But solid-state lasers still don't have the kind of power needed to meet these ambitious goals. At least $1.2 million was invested in this technology before it was diverted into the more modest PASS project. But the long-term aim is still to create smaller, and more powerful, pulsed laser weapons.

“As laser technology matures, we hope to eventually be at a 1 or 2 man-portable system,” says Keith Braun of the Army’s Advanced Energy Armaments Systems.

Interestingly, Stellar describes their efforts as “bringing the power of Star Wars technology to the field, providing the needed heavy punch capability to the SOF [Special Operations Forces] at a relative low cost.” It’s an Army program, but Special Forces Command have elsewhere expressed an interest in pulsed plasma laser weapons for lethal and nonlethal uses. It’s not impossible that there is more going on here than is visible from the surface and there are other more secret programs.

The developers see the possibility of dual lethal/nonlethal capability as a major benefit.

"I've talked to a lot of the guys in green," says Braun, "the one thing they want other than more time at home and a pay raise is a system that offers primarily less than lethal effects with the option to flip a switch and 'go lethal' should things escalate to that level. Hopefully, we are on the way to getting that to them."

As a lethal system, a laser sniper rifle would be a formidable weapon: perfect accuracy at any a range measured in miles, with no windage, no drop, and no need to allow for target movement. And it would not give the firer’s position away with a report, smoke or muzzle flash – all the enemy would see would be the effect when it hits the target. Although it would have little impact on armor, it would be useful against most other targets including aircraft and helicopters.

High-energy, continuous-beam laser weapon systems like the Airborne Laser rely on massive amounts of energy to burn through the target. Short pulse lasers can do the job with much less energy, by creating an intense shockwave focused on a small area. They may also be able to create significant electro-magnetic pulse effects, and there has been work on tuning these to stun or paralyze humans.

Can a lethal laser be made small enough to be portable, including the power supply? Not this year, and maybe not in five years. But the signs are that it’s certainly coming.

(Picture: PHASR, a solid-state laser dazzler project from the Air Force's ScorpWorks)

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April 27, 2007, 05:24 PM
I'm holding out for an ultra-compact acoustic weapon...

Evil Monkey
April 27, 2007, 05:25 PM
HA! Yeah, I heard about this and saw the same picture back in 2002-2004. Ain't happening any time soon.

El Tejon
April 27, 2007, 05:27 PM
Ris, that will have to be imported from Russia now.:D The Russians were always nuts for that kind of stuff.

It will probably be a crew-served weapon at first but we may be just a couple of decades away from "Starship Trooper" guns.:)

April 27, 2007, 05:36 PM
Uh, no. There are significant power, efficiency, and emitter lifetime problems. I worked on foamed Ti supercapacitors for such an application and the power density was on the order of ONE MILLION TIMES less than gunpowder on a volume basis.

Until we have matter-beam-supported quantum singularity generators or get the ability to control and store antimatter handheld portable laser weapons will not ever be practical.

April 27, 2007, 05:37 PM
I wouldn't say that.

In the last 2 years electric car batteries have doubled in power with a decrease in weight. That's technology I have access to.

I can only imagine that the technology the USAF and NSA have now is a fair bit superior to what I get to play with.

I give this less than a decade before it's operational in aircraft, and 10-20 years later we'll have the man-portable versions.

The drawback has always been using lasers, or any form of focused energy, to burn the target. This technology damages the target with shock waves that require far less power than incinerating the target; and with the right enhancements, can be pulsed at a variable rates on a target until that target's resonance frequency is found and it shakes itself apart.

This is going to come fast now that people are looking into more creative uses of the power than burning the target.

April 27, 2007, 05:48 PM
I will say that there is a significant potential to use lasers to ionize paths through the air, down which one can launch an electrical arc. That technology has great potential as a stun/incapacitate weapon, and portable prototypes have been built.

Deer Hunter
April 27, 2007, 07:48 PM
I'm with Braun on this one. I'd much rather see some thunder-making technology used in the future. We've learned from Nature before and it's done wonders for us.

April 27, 2007, 10:06 PM
I spent much of my life being a hard-core sci-fi fan, and as much as I love the idea of energy weapons, I think they're likely to stay in the realm of fiction.
Firearms have a number of advantages that would be very hard to overcome. They are simple and cheap to produce, and relatively easy to service in the field, and the weapons and ammunition are easily portable. Any practical energy weapon will need enormously sophisticated electronics, which cannot be easily serviced -- for example; if your target moves, will the device need or be able to keep it in phase? Energy density from power supplies is also a big issue, as well as a possible readiness issue with shelf-life or need for periodic recharge of batteries. The technological facilities to produce such things are also a strategic and tactical vulnerability issue.
I think that simple chemistry and metallurgy will trump the space-guns for long after we're all forgotten. My money is still on slug-throwers.

April 27, 2007, 11:11 PM
A company to look at is Ionatron, Nasdaq: IOTN.

I used to own shares of this company before they became IOTN when they had a different business agenda. I am not a current shareholder.

April 28, 2007, 12:14 AM
I was in a hurry to finish my previous post, but I'll add this.
Energy weapons will supplant firearms when they have a specific mission that firearms cannot accomplish.
Try this scenario: a bad guy has taken refuge in a museum, and you have to neutralize him without risking damage to the Rembrandts on the wall. If you like it even more complex, you have to shoot through the wall that the Rembrandt is hanging on. Definitely not the job for your typical .308 sniper rifle. It's easier if you don't need to actually kill the guy (though no one would mind if you did) -- in other words, if you had more options than lethal only.
I know, this particular problem is easy: seal the building and pump in gas, but you get the idea.
Thinking about this, you can come up with a variety of scenarios that would require different weapons for different missions. These special applications may have some advantage, but it comes at a very steep increase in cost and complexity, which are still unnecessary if all you need to do is kill or wound someone within reasonable range.

I'm holding out for an ultra-compact acoustic weapon...
No need to wait; go to the sporting goods store and get a police whistle, or for more effect, one of those little gas-cartridge-powered airhorns. ;-)

Jim Watson
April 28, 2007, 07:40 AM
If and when, a battery with the size and capacity of a magazine full of ammo will have a lot of applications besides a beam weapon. But I think that will take longer to come up with than the emitter.
Maybe a laser on an MG pintle drawing off a vehicle power supply?

April 28, 2007, 10:42 AM
I read an interesting article a while back about a form of prototype weapon that had "cartridges" but they were basically capacitors roughly the size of a shotgun shell. ZOT, charge used up, "shell" ejected and next one fed in... ZOT and so forth. It was for some form of microwave based weapon.

Function in field trials was far better than expected and each "round" was very light so you could carry a lot of them. Unfortunately when not in use they tended to self discharge over a fairly short period of time so it obviously wasn't battlefield ready yet but who knows what someone will come up with.

April 28, 2007, 11:33 AM
I'm still waiting for a Barret or smaller sized MASER. Just imagine the events you can have out west with some of those.

"The Fourth Annual Montana 2000 Yard Cattle Drive and Barbecue Cookoff of 2023" :D


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