By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
July 12, 2012
Last updated on 7/12/12.
Doctor Doom would really like this weapon. Scientists and Army personnel at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. have apparently been busy developing a super-Taser-type directed energy weapon (DEW) called the Laser-Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) that shoots a lightning bolt down a laser beam to send 50 billion (50B)–yes, that's billion, with a "b"–watts of "optical power"/electrical energy into the target, presumably to stun, destroy or kill whatever or whomever it hits, most likely depending on the wattage and/or exposure duration.
Lead scientist George Fischer has been quoted by Army.mil as saying "We never got tired of the lightning bolts zapping our simulated (targets)." He went on to say, "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." What Fischer is describing has also been referred-to by the U.S. military as a "nano-second electrical pulse" (nsEP).
That's pretty fast and powerful. But keep in mind the LIPC is still a developmental prototype weapon that will have to contend with Hague Convention rules on military weaponry when and if it's every fully developed, before it can be fielded, even though the U.S. government never actually signed Hague. If you can't burn someone up and suffocate them with a flamethrower, why would you be able to fry them with a Laser Induced Plasma Channel? Because it kills them quicker? Because frying someone with a phaser is more humane than doing it with a literal fire hose? Perhaps, but DefenseReview (DR) isn't currently aware of any specific lethality time limitations placed on weapons by Hague.
So, what's plasma? "If a laser beam is intense enough, its electro-magnetic field is strong enough to rip electrons off of air molecules, creating plasma," said Fischer. "This plasma is located along the path of the laser beam, so we can direct it wherever we want by moving a mirror."
Presently, the key challenge appears to be keeping LIPC from destroying itself. "If the light focuses in air, there is certainly the danger that it will focus in a glass lens, or in other parts of the laser amplifier system, destroying it," Fischer said. "We needed to lower the intensity in the optical amplifier and keep it low until we wanted the light to self-focus in air." According to the Army.mil piece on LIPC, other challenges include "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."
Anyone familiar with military hardware and logistics can tell you that power generation, specifically on-board mobile battery power for infantry warfighters, has been and continues to be a significant challenge for the U.S. military, but the LIPC is likely going to be a vehicle-mounted weapon, so adequate power generation may not be an issue.
By the way, in case anyone out there is thinking that this weapon tech is reminiscent of the XADS StunStrike CQSR (Close Quarters Shock Rifle) tech, you're not alone. Defense Review was thinking the same thing.