When you think of laser weapons I guarantee you instantly associate them with a form of media, such as futuristic sci-fi films or TV shows. This is no longer the case, as a new breed of weapons have been designed for future warfare, with lasers being at the forefront of design.
It may seem like a hard fact to grasp, but it’s the honest truth. These weapons don’t belong in the world of Star Trek or Star Wars anymore. They may not be installed onto space ships (yet), but they have been introduced to different militaries in the world.
What’s the point? How is it possible? Can you really set phasers to stun? These types of questions have been at the front of laser weaponry design thoughts for a while now. One of the main contributors is the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate. They have been developed lasers that use high energy, specific microwave tech and other futuristic weapons that are almost unbelievable.
But what’s the use of laser weaponry?
Lasers weaponry is classified as a energy directed weapon. They have a good set of advantages over the standard weapons that is normally used.
- They’re much faster than bullets or missiles, as the light outputs allow them to travel at the speed of light.
- Standard weapons have to rely on a human to aim them, meaning that they can only be as accurate as the person it is that fires it. Laser weaponry can precisely target something, removing the human error.
- If you use a standard weapon, you’re taught to only use them if your aim is to kill. Laser weapons completely flip this on its head. The energy output can be changed, so high power can be used for lethality and low power for non lethality.
Laser weaponry technology has been developed for a long time now, and a lot are being tested as you read this. In some cases, they’re actually being used on a regular basis.
How is it that a laser can be used as a weapon?
This is something that a lot of people struggle to get their head around. It’s common fact that a laser is simply a light source. One of the best ways to understand how lasers can be used as weaponry, it’s good to think about all the different light sources there are.
For example, take a standard light bulb. The light that a bulb emits produces waves that go in different directions. Like a wave in the sea, these waves have both low and high points. If a light wave was visible to the human eye, you’d see it go both high and low all of the time. The light emitted all combines together, which creates white light.
The next thing to think about is a torch. A torch has a beam of light that is a lot more focused than what is emitted from a light bulb. With the light being so focused, it mostly travels in a single direction, wherever you point the torch. Similar to a light bulb, the different colours of light work together to create white light, and there will still be high and low waves.
Now we move onto a laser. A laser beam is even more focused than a flashlight. It only has one wavelength, colour or light. The peaks from the highs and lows can be synchronized from peak to peak. In simple, this means that all of the different waves don’t mess mess with each other, making the light travel in a single direction.
The actual light beam of a laser can be made to focus at great degrees, and will still be that focused over a massive distance. The light that produces a laser can be produced to a different amount of powers. To put it into perspective, a laser will be either a thousand or a million times stronger than your normal light bulb.
Lasers are able to produce different wavelengths of light. This ranges from infrared through to wavelengths that are completely visible. It can even turn to ultraviolet if you so wish.
The best way to explain it is that lasers are moving energy. The laser create some of the most intense energy that is able to travel far. This is the reason lasers can be used as a weapon, whereas a bulb is not, although they could be used to give someone a nasty burn.
To be used as an efficient weapon, a laser will have to produce light in a non standard way. This is why laser stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. The laser produces light which stimulates the release of light particles. There are four aspects that need to be brought together to do this:
- Lens – The majority of lasers require a lens that will allow the laser beam to focus.
- Energy Source – This is normally complete by pumping the atoms so that they get into an excited state, allowing the laser to be created.
- Leasing method – A group of atoms have to get excited so that they emit light that has a particular wavelength. This medium can vary, but it’s normally a gas, liquid or a solid.
- Mirrors – This is done through the use of a full mirror as well as a half silvered mirror. This mirror allows the light that’s emitted to be bounced back and forth within the laser area, allowing it to escape and be fired.
All of these processes focus on both the storing and releasing of the energy source. The whole reason a laser is so focused is because of energy being injected into the laser process. All of this energy excites, making the energy levels get even higher.
Once the electrons eventually relax, photons are released. These photons bounce between the mirrors, exciting all of the other electrons as they travel along. All of this put together creates a powerful beam of light, known as a laser.
Now you understand how it is a laser is created, lets have a look at some of the laser weapons that are being used in recent times.
The use of laser weapons
At the moment, laser weapons are restricted to military use. This is because the process of creating these weapons is not a simple one, requiring a lot of resources that people like you and me wouldn’t be able to use. I guess I’ll have to stick to playing around with my laser pointer.
There are various lasers that are being designed and used for the military. One weapon that has had a lot of development on is the Free Electron Laser, better known as FEL. It was first created in the 1970’s by a physicist known as John Madey. The FEL is composed of s magnetic undulator, a particle accelerator and an electron injector. It works like this:
- The electron injector inserts free electrons inside of the particle accelerator. The accelerator then accelerates until the electrons are at the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per hour.
- These electrons will then be moved through the undulator which consists of magnets that have alternating pole directions. Once inside, these electrons will oscillate back and forth. Every time they bend, light is emitted at a certain wavelength. The spacing of these magnets control how the wavelength of the emitted light will be. It’s therefore tuned by changing where the magnets are spaced.
- The theory is, the FEL can be actually be tuned from being infrared to X-ray.
Back in 1977, the US Air Force came up with a laser weapon design. They ended up creating the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, otherwise known as COIL. The energy source for this weapon is different from FEL, as it’s a chemical reaction, with the lasing technique being molecular iodine. It works by using atoms, heat, potassium chloride and water vapor.
- The hydrogen peroxide has a chemical reaction with the chlorine gas, as well as the potassium hydroxide. This reaction creates single oxygen.
- The molecular iodine then gets put inside of the laser, normally by being inserted. The single oxygen creates the energy that allows all of the iodine atoms to actually laser, emitting infrared light that has a wavelength of at least 1.3 micrometers.
- This laser then emits light on a continuous basis, although it can be pulsed which helps with the overall accuracy.
Set phasers to stun
The majority of laser weaponry is used to shoot down missiles, but what about being used non-lethally? As a matter of fact, there’s a system that will be in use soon. It’s known as the Active Denial System, or ADS. ADS isn’t simply a laser, but a truck mounted, high energy radio frequency generator.
The directional antenna of the ADS focuses millimeter waves which an operator can aim where they want. This beam can make a millimeter penetration on a persons skin. The energy of the actual beam heats up the water in the molecules found in skin tissue, create a harsh burning feeling. The ADS won’t permanently injure a person as it doesn’t penetrate deep enough to do any lasting damage.
Perhaps you want a weapon that is able to momentarily stun a person, or even distract them? A device has been developed by the Air Force which can do both of these things. It’s known as the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response, or PHaSR.
PHaSR uses two low powered diode laser, with one being visible and the other infrared. The whole weapon is the size of a standard rifle, and only requires a single person to use it. The light that is produced from this weapon can distract or dazzle a person without actually blinding them.
The development of this weaponry is incredibly progressive. Having a variety of optical distracter devices that can impair a target’s vision can be a life saver.
I know what you’re thinking. How can I get a laser gun? Well, a company do actually allow you to purchase a laser gun. You have to sign a hazardous equipment affidavit to actually purchase the plans. It also depends on the gun laws in the area you live, so if you want to own once, you need to your research.
This laser ray gun that this company sells is a solid state laser that makes use of a flash lamp and a neodymium rod which acts as the laser conductor. It needs at least 12 volts of power, which surprisingly enough can be provided by AA batteries.
The infrared light produces around 500 joules of energy. The actual beam is fully focused through the use of collimating lens, which helps to straighten the laser beam, ensuring they stay parallel.
It isn’t a toy that you’d casually leave lying around the house. It’s actually classified as a hazardous class IV laser, and this company claim that it is actually able to burn holes through the majority of materials. Definitely not the sort of thing you’d buy as a present for a child!
The Laser Weaponry Revolution
Just by reading this blog you should be able to see just how versatile lasers are. Although at Subcon Laser we use them for laser cutting and other similar processes, it’s entirely possible for them to be adapted for other uses.
I’m personally excited to see where laser weaponry will be in the future. The technology is already so advanced, we may end up seeing some of the most amazing piece of tech being introduced for personal use.
Laser weapons are truly an exciting and interesting thing to read about. The nature of warfare has completely changed, and these developments can assist troops all over the world so that they have the equipment to be safe. Move over sci-fi, laser weapons have their own use now.
What did you think of this post? Do you agree with what has been stated? Is there any laser weaponry that you would add to the list? Let us know, and you may just see your idea inserted into the post.