The US Army has begun soliciting developers to build a laser weapon system that emits an ultra-short burst of highly intense energy to destroy targets.
New Scientist has reported that a prototype of the ultra-short pulse laser (USPL) system is expected to be ready by August 2022.
The USPL will be unique compared to other laser-based systems that are in development or ready to be deployed. The weapon will release enormous power in the form of laser pulses (light flashes) rather than emitting a continuous beam as in present systems, according to the program solicitation brief.
Multiple Ways of Destroying Targets
The concept note of the system states that the USPL will neutralize threats in three distinct ways, unlike current systems which destroy targets with a beam of focused energy.
The new system will be capable of scorching the target; blinding the target system’s sensors “through broadband supercontinuum generation in the air, and the generation of a localized electronic interference used to overload a threat’s internal electronics,” as stated in the brief.
The new system will emit a terawatt (equivalent to a million megawatt) of energy in a brief burst of 200 femtoseconds (one quadrillionth of a second), compared to the High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance, or HELIOS, that features a laser of around 60 kilowatts (one megawatt is equivalent to 1,000 kilowatts) of power.
Energy Beams That Don’t Diffract
Unlike current systems which diffract energy, the intensity of the USPL causes a “non-linear effect in air resulting in a self-focusing filament.”
These filaments of energy don’t diffract or disperse, making them far more lethal than those emitted by present laser systems.
Developers have been trying to build “femtosecond lasers” for the last two decades but have faced hurdles in logistics and infrastructure, the solicitation brief added.
However, continuous-wave laser developers have made their systems much more durable thanks to the emergence of diode and fiber laser technology, allowing them to be integrated onto ground and sea platforms.