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If you’re into military technology at all, somewhere in the back of your mind, you want laser guns to happen. Because they’re cool. Han Solo cool. Starbuck cool. James T. Kirk cool.
But wanting something to happen is very different from having it happen. And we are still a ways off – like a decade, at the very least, and probably more – from deployable laser weapons.
In 1983 flight trials of the approximately 60t laser device commenced on an Ilyushin Il-76MD heavylift transport. At the same time research was being carried out on the propagation of laser beams in the atmosphere.
Starting at the end of the 1960s, the Russians also developed ground-based nuclear laser systems for combating spacecraft. Unlike the American x-ray lasers, they could be used several times over. The programme was terminated after the USSR announced a unilateral moratorium on trials of the space defence system and the puzzling deaths of the two project managers in the mid-1980s.
The mobile Pamir-SU electro-generator, with an output of 15MW and a mass of around 20t, could supply power to long-range lasers and ultra-high-frequency weapon systems. It could be used both on the Earth and also in space. In 1994/1995 this equipment was sold to the USA.
The U.S. military operational community does not
widely appreciate the progress that has been made
in increasing SSL power levels. As noted earlier,
the three corporations participating in DoD’s Joint
High-Powered Solid-State Laser Program either
have achieved or will shortly achieve 25-kilowatt
power levels with solid-state lasers in a laboratory
environment.3 While this is far from the 100 kW
range that the DoD’s High Energy Laser Joint
Technology Office believes is necessary for a tactical
laser to be effective, this work is viewed by many
in the industry as promising. As technology progresses,
weight might emerge as a problem as it is
estimated that reaching an objective power-to-mass
ratio would result in a laser system weighing
about 11,000 pounds4, much heavier than would
be feasible for some of the uses described above.
However, some in industry argue that technological
advances could reduce the weight of a SSL laser
of optimal power to less than 4,000 pounds.