The U.S. Army is issuing the call to develop an ultrashort pulse laser.
The laser is designed to unleash “enormous power” in a fraction of the time a regular laser weapon lasts.
The weapon should have the ability to fry a target’s electronics with an electromagnetic pulse.
The U.S. Army wants to develop a new laser weapon that is more powerful than existing weapons by nearly three orders of magnitude, but lasts just a fraction as long.
The service posted a notice for the prospective new weapon at the Pentagon’s Small Business Investment Research website, calling the weapon the Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser for Army Platforms. The Army believes it can merely aim the laser at a drone to both damage it and fry its electronic guts.
Most military lasers are continuous wave lasers, or those that blast a target with a continuous beam of energy. Continuous wave lasers need that blast because they effectively work like blowtorches, heating the surface of a target—say, a flying drone—until a part melts off, inducing aerodynamic failure and a crash, or the fuel or explosive payload explodes.
The problem? Sometimes continuous wave lasers, often in the kilowatt class, need to focus on a single point on a target for a few seconds to work properly.
Ultrashort Pulse Lasers, however, would trade duration for power, firing a 1-terawatt, 200-femtosecond-long burst of laser energy. For context, 1 terawatt is 1 trillion watts, while 1 femtosecond is the equivalent of 1 quadrillionth of a second.
Unlike continuous wave lasers, which simply burn, the Army says USPL systems can neutralize threats with three distinct mechanisms:
The last method of threat neutralization is particularly interesting. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is typically considered a side effect of a nuclear detonation, a process by which an exploding nuclear bomb releases electromagnetic energy. The energy builds up in electronic devices near an explosion, shorting them out and rendering them inoperable. But natural events can cause EMPs, too: The 1859 Carrington Event, for example, saw an unusually large coronal mass ejection from the sun release electromagnetic energy that fried telegraph wires worldwide.
The EMP aspect of the Army’s laser is helpful, as it would help guarantee the downing of enemy drones. Even if the laser doesn’t burn enough material from the drone to cause it to crash, or if the drone relies on sensors that can’t be blinded by the laser beam (GPS), the EMP could knock the drone out completely.
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