Imagine a laser weapon that, like rifles in science fiction movies, fires metal-vaporizing pulses just like a machine gun.
Now imagine that laser weapon is a million times more powerful than any used before and is capable of vaporizing its targets and disrupting enemy tech signals.
Something out of a Star Trek TV episode, right?
Alas, it’s not in a sci-fi movie script. The US Army is developing the device, which is known as the Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser for Army Platforms.
According to a report in IndustryTap.com, present laser weapons developed by the US military emit continuous beams. These were typically designed to bore holes through metal.
These weapons can disable relatively close-by vehicles or drones.
But the Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser (UPSL) platform will emit short pulses that rely on low energy. As a result, this weapon will be powerful enough to vaporize rather than melting the metal.
Researchers are designing it to reach a terawatt for a short 200 femtoseconds or one quadrillionth of a second, IndustryTap reported. In that small duration of time, it would be able to vaporize a drone.
It is also capable of disrupting electronic systems in its vicinity, making it a functional electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
In the future, an army could use it as a standalone system or integrated onboard ground vehicles, ships, and aircraft. These could prove to be very useful when combating fast-moving, small drones or missiles, IndustryTap reported.
According to the government’s SBIR site, this is how it works:
“Current high energy laser (HEL) weapon systems primarily consist of continuous wave (CW) laser sources with output powers in the kilowatts,” the description says. “These kilowatt-class CW laser systems predominantly engage targets via absorption of light; either causing the target to burn and melt or overwhelming optical sensors with high intensities. Thanks to the emergence of diode and fiber laser technology, these laser systems have grown increasingly ruggedized to the point they have been integrated onto platforms ranging from ground to sea. The Army is preparing the warfighter for a future battlefield with rapidly modernizing militaries while new threats and gaps are emerging. CW lasers provide solutions to many of these problems but due to their fundamental different natures, lasers with pulse widths in the range of femtoseconds provide unique tactical capabilities due to their rapid discharge of enormous power.”
According to National Interest, Lockheed Martin is looking to shrink down its HELIOS laser to the point where it could fit on a future fighter plane.
The US Navy has also begun to arm its destroyers with laser-based weapons.
“To destroy a cruise missile it takes higher power settings, longer range attack and different types of lasers,” David Stoudt, a senior executive advisor to Booz Allen Hamilton, said in an interview last year.
“Power levels are going up with the ability to meaningfully engage. We are doing the necessary lethality investigation. What does it take to actually kill a target?”
Officials said the prototype of the USPL will be unveiled in August 2022.
Sources: IndustryTap.com, SBIR.gov, National Interest