“Set phasers to stun!”
From the very first episode and movie through today, Captain Kirk and other Star Trek officers dialed down their weapons to disable rather than disintegrate – at least until the opposition vaporized the first away crew member wearing a red shirt. These particle beam weapons could slice through ship hulls, but when used on humans, it was either stun or vaporize. The U.S. military (and all other militaries of major powers) have developed sonic weapons that stun, and laser weapons that can slice through metal. However, the ability to vaporize with a laser has been an elusive target – until now.
“While most CW lasers simply melt targets, USPL systems are able to neutralize threats via three distinct mechanisms: ablation of material from the target, the blinding of sensors through broadband supercontinuum generation in the air, and the generation of a localized electronic interference used to overload a threat’s internal electronics.”
A brief released recently by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs – programs helping small businesses win Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) projects – announced that the U.S Army is working with unnamed partners on weapons using Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Lasers (USPL) rather than the conventional continuous beam lasers. USPL have the advantage of needing far less power, making them candidates for personal weapons like phasers. And, like phasers, USPL weapons will soon have the power of ablation – military-speak for vaporization.
“Differences in lethality as well as propagation mechanisms makes USPL technology one of particular interest for numerous mission sets. Over the last two decades, femtosecond lasers have gone from requiring dedicated buildings at national laboratories to sitting on academic optics tables across the country.”
A weapon that can sit on a table is one step away from fitting in a backpack, and two short hops from being fired like a rifle or hand weapon. As described in New Scientist, the new Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser is being designed to reach a terawatt for a short 200 femtoseconds or one quadrillionth of a second. That’s enough time to vaporize a drone … or a human. It will also be designed to be dialed down to stun or disrupt electronic systems … or humans. Finally, it can be set in between those two strengths to vaporize just the outer skin or shell of a drone, leaving its electronics intact for analysis. Will it also turn humans into living (temporarily, at least) skeletons – like the Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?
While the Army plans to begin vaporizing stuff in 2022, it will probably start with a Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser cannon similar to the starship-mounted phasers of Star Trek. However, the thrill of vaporizing will no doubt push soldiers to demand hand-held USPL weapons asap. That leaves one burning question: will U.S. commanders follow Captain Kirk and order their troops to “Set USPL’s to stun!” or let them vaporize away?
What do you think?