Army Working on New Lightning Zapper Weapon

What’s that you say? You want more lightning bolts in your laser beams? Has the Army got a program for you.

The big brains at the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal are working on a technology that can blast lightning bolts down laser beams in order to fry a target. The Laser-Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC), is envisioned as a way to destroy targets that conduct electricity better than the air or ground that surrounds them, according to an Army story.

But I’ll let George Fischer, lead scientist on the project, explain further:

“If a laser puts out a pulse with modest energy, but the time is incredibly tiny, the power can be huge,” Fischer [said]. “During the duration of the laser pulse, it can be putting out more power than a large city needs, but the pulse only lasts for two-trillionths of a second.”

How much energy are we talking about here? The optical amplifier the team is using churns out 50 billion watts of optical power—a light bulb uses 100 watts.

A target, an enemy vehicle or even some types of unexploded ordnance, would be a better conductor than the ground it sits on. Since the voltage drop across the target would be the same as the voltage drop across the same distance of ground, current flows through the target. In the case of unexploded ordnance, it would detonate, explained Fischer.

The service isn’t really anywhere close to actually fielding the technology, as plenty of technical challenges still need to be overcome, including “synchronizing the laser with the high voltage, ruggedizing the device to survive under the extreme environmental conditions of an operational environment, and powering the system for extended periods of time.”

Still, lightning bolt laser beams, people.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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