Move Over Star Wars, Tomorrow's Tactical Lasers Will Be More Napalm Than Pew Pew

Illustration for article titled Move Over Star Wars, Tomorrow's Tactical Lasers Will Be More Napalm Than Pew Pew

We've been kind of laser crazy here at Gizmodo lately, and with good reason: Deployable solid state lasers could be landing in military hands as early as 2009. We simply wish to be at the forefront of the pew pew revolution, with the hope that any burning sensation our writers feel in the near future is the result of an unforgettable night out, not a disgruntled weapons grade laser system operator. But that last little diatribe brings up a good point, specifically in regards to what, exactly, laser warfare is going to look like. Sci-fi tends to glamorize laser weapons (pew pew, you're dead), when in reality the experts say getting "shot" with will probably feel more like napalm (*sizzle sizzle*, protracted death).Wired's Danger room notes that the U.S. Air Force has effectively shifted away from the instant death scenario as of late, and focuses instead on how long it will take to cook a human with a laser (allegedly, everything is still top secret).

[F]rom what we know, the Air Force considers laser effects on eyes and skin, for the most part. Skin damage is very much easier to achieve than penetration; simply raising skin temperature to (say) 80C/ 180 f to a depth of a couple of millimeters will cause serious blistering (second-third degree burns). If 40% of the body is burned in this way, then the target will be disabled and may die. [...] So instead of "zap-and-you're-dead" in normal science fiction style, with a hundred kilowatt laser, it's more a matter of spraying the target all over to ensure they're done. The description of the ATL as a "long range blow torch" is probably quite accurate.


I suppose it's fitting that a new slogan for tomorrow's battlefields came from a Colonel: Original recipe, or extra crispy? [Danger Room]



They are talking continuous wave operation. Meaning it's on all the time. If you want to "blast" something, you turn the laser on via pulsed, Q-switched mode. That means the energy density of the continuous wave beam is compressed into a single short pulse. The damage is so impressive, the molecular bonds and the matter itself of the target can be instantly vaporized. This is called ablation. It's used all the time to drill holes in ceramics, diamonds, etc.. All the while leaving no scorch marks.

Imagine, you are standing there talking to your terrorist buddy one second, the next instant they have a gaping, hole clean through their body. Only some smoke and water vapor will be rising out of the hole. Oh, and the frequency of light used will most likely be near infrared. Which means no one will see the beam. Must be an act of god ;-D