As if autonomous drones launching Hellfire missiles at targets acquired through the collection of metadata weren’t horrifying enough, the US military now has its own death rays — no kidding.
Since the days of Nikola Tesla, and his plans of a death ray, the up-and-coming military industrial complex has salivated over the idea of direct energy weapons. For pennies, the US could lay waste to their enemies instead of using highly expensive missile systems. However, this technology and the resources to build it remained elusive — until now.
Directed energy weapons (DEWs) are systems that emit energy without the means of a projectile, and can use visible light, infra-red or microwave radiation, with lethal effects.
The weapons are said to be particularly useful for targeting large numbers of targets with high precision, and some estimates put the cost of each shot of directed energy at just $1.
“The technologies now exist,” said Paul Shattuck, company director for Directed Energy Systems. “They can be packaged into a size, weight, power and thermal which can be fit onto relevant tactical platforms, whether it’s a ship, whether it’s a ground vehicle or whether it’s an airborne platform.”
“So everything exists today,” he said, “it’s just a question of the desire and when is that going to occur.”
Lockheed Martin has already shown the deadly accuracy of these weapons in tests. In milliseconds, one of their 30 KW laser weapons will melt a hole through solid steel.
When Defense News asked Lockheed Martin if they came to them tomorrow and asked for a laser weapon in the 30 KW range, the company said yes.
According to Defense News, that doesn’t mean that giant city-melting lasers are on their way. Right now, the weapons are limited to the 15-30 KW scale; going much further requires figuring out how to deal with atmospheric interference, an issue which becomes more complicated with weapons mounted on airborne systems.
However, Lockheed said that making a larger laser is similar to building out computer servers — Once you figure out how to connect them all, you can add more power by adding another server. The same is true for the laser weapons: you add more power slots into the rack and increase its power.
Just last year, the company held a demonstration at which they took out unmanned systems from over a mile away, melted a car engine, and sank a boat.
While they have only mastered the 30 KW system, Lockheed Martin says they are on track to deliver a 60 KW laser for the Army by the end of the year.
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