At long last, laser weapons
are nearing deployment
But it was not until the invention of the laser in 1960 that the true
potential of that concept led to serious research programs, which led
quickly to major size, weight, and power (SWaP) limitations. Laser is
short for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
In the decades that followed the construc-
tion of the first laser prototype at Hughes
Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif.,
numerous types of lasers have been devel-
oped, based on a variety of power sources and
light generation materials, for a wide breadth
of applications ranging from barcode scanners
to cutting and welding in manufacturing, light shows, DNA sequenc-
ing, optical communications, laser printers, and surgery.
One of the first potential laser weapons involved using laser beams
as “dazzlers” to blind opponents temporarily. Still, the narrow gap
between temporary and permanent blinding led an early ban on that
aspect under the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, issued by the
United Nations in 1995. Many governments, however, have used loopholes in the Protocol — or simply ignored it — to develop blinding lasers.
BY J.R. Wilson
From the mythical burning mirrors of
ancient Greek inventor Archimedes to
the Martian death rays of H.G. Wells to
Flash Gordon’s raygun to Capt. Kirk’s
phaser, humans have been fascinated
by the possible use of light beams as
weapons for at least two millennia.
Once the stuff of science fiction, U.S. military laser weapons
now are considered the future successors to missiles and
gun systems to protect military forces from enemy boats,
unmanned aircraft, ballistic missiles, mortars, and rockets.