Laser Weapons of all sorts are usually the most prominent feature of your favorite Science-Fiction flick. Colorful and incredible slow laser beams blowing up stuff in a galaxy far far away. That depiction, of course, is more fantasy than fiction. But it doesn’t change the fact that the US Military doesn’t just research Laser Weapons, it already has several in use.
Laser Weapons could very well change the future of how we wage war. As said, it won’t look as flashy as it is depicted in Sci-Fi stories. That’s exactly the reason why they’re so desirable for the US Military. They are fast, silent, invisible, precise and “just” need a reliable power supply.
Laser Weapons: Hot Shots
Laser Weapons (Laser meaning “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”) are concentrated beams of light. They are invisible to the human eye and move at the speed of light. Depending on the strength, they don’t explode or anything similar, they pretty much burn holes into things. And that may be all that is necessary for certain military operations.
The first system that was actually put to use and tested by the US Military was LaWS. LaWS is a system installed and tested on the USS Ponce where it displayed its effectiveness against smaller boats and drones. The Laser Weapon is scalable in energy output (5-50 kWs) and not currently designed to kill. It is designed to destroy sensors, burn out engines (of boats or cars) or fire warning shots against enemy soldiers. The latter one could mean a number of things though. Laser weapons could potentially blind enemy soldiers, which could prove to be a tough discussion for the US Military to justify its use to blinding instead of killing enemy personnel. It could also possibly give out warning shots that cause a “burning” sensation in enemies, hopefully bringing them to turn away.
Laser Weapons are tools for asymmetrical warfare. Asymmetrical ware means that a battlefield is not even. Due to their nature, they could surprise the enemy in a non-lethal way by taking out vehicles during or even before operations. The LaWS system on the USS Ponce has a reach of a mile, but it can be expected to make significant leaps with newer models – increasing range and power to eventually wreak more havoc than just taking out a few sensors or car engines. The US Military also tests similar Laser Weapon Systems on ground vehicles and looks to build them into planes.
Laser Weapons are certainly an investment at this point, as they do need a lot of resources to be developed. Once they work, however, they are incredibly cheap. A single shot from a Laser Weapon costs the US Military about $1 compared to a $400,000 missile. Once it is all set up, you just need a soldier to man it with a game-like controller and put power into it for the impulse that creates the laser beam. Power consumption is still a worry. Once that is worked out, laser weapons can shoot a significant amount of laser beams before they have to be recharged.
Laser Weapons: A Bright Future?
It’s not pretty, but unfortunately, war is part of our world. The use of those and possibly more advanced laser weapons down the line could mean a lot of things. It most certainly means a change in how we lead wars.
If the US Military implementation of these weapon systems is a success, other big nations will try to even out the playing field by developing their own. Most already do. At the end of the day it is still a weapon, but if used correctly, it could possibly enable us to have fewer casualties. By taking out vehicles and disabling equipment instead of the person behind a scope, war gets more disconnected as well though.
As seen with the large-scale introduction of drones, that kind of weapon disconnects soldiers from war and the responsibility of wielding a weapon that can end lives. After all, watching people die on a screen in eagle view is a very different experience than being down in the gory details. Making them cheap to operate and fire is also a small concern. If you can fire three shots from a major weapon system for the cost of a cup of coffee, the US MIlitary may become very insensitive to the use of these weapon systems.
If Laser Weapons remain to be mainly used to disable vehicles and sensors, they could actually be a benefit to all people involved. It could potentially lower casualties by taking out vehicles precisely and more likely without collateral damage. If it really comes to that remains to be seen though.
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