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US to fund 'man-made lightning' raygun tech

$10m for quasi-lethal cattleprod blasters

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The US Navy will put nearly $10m into development of "man-made lightning" blaster weapons.

In a release dated yesterday, Arizona-based company Ionatron announced that it had won a contract worth $9,839,094 to develop its Laser Induced Plasma Channel™ (LIPC) technology. The funds were supplied by the Naval Surface Warfare Centre, Crane division. NSW-Crane is well-known as a supplier of gadgets and weapons to the elite, secretive Navy SEALs among others.

Ionatron describes LIPC as "man-made lightning". It notes that electrical air-gap spark discharges are nothing new, but until now it has been very hard to make them travel any distance or point them at a target. But the firm's engineers reckon they've potentially got the problem cracked, using precursor laser pulses to burn a conductive tunnel through the air down which an electrical charge can easily jump.

The technology could be applied in a number of ways, perhaps most obviously as an improvement on existing Taser cattle-prod dartguns, used by police to electrocute malefactors into submission as opposed to simply shooting them. Ionatron reckon their lightning zappers could "replace guns as the weapon of choice in close-range defense."

But there'll be no need for plods or soldiers of the future to give up on killing people altogether. "Lethal configurations are also available," the company assures us.

Of course, electrical pulse weapons could well be more effective against electronics-based targets than human ones. Ionatron has previously been involved in efforts to use vehicle-mounted LIPC blasters to fry the circuitry of roadside bombs or landmines in Iraq. But in the end the US Army turned the kit down, reportedly disliking the carrying platforms rather than the ray-guns themselves.

That said, the idea of pouring a high-voltage electric current into a bomb's firing circuit seems pretty much certain to risk detonating it; and if that's all you want to achieve, there are simpler ways of doing it. The phrase "we have become the terrorist, haven't we sir," oft-heard from critical training staff in bomb-disposal schools, springs to mind.

With this most recent injection of funds, however, it seems that LIPC zap-beam technology certainly hasn't died off. US forces may yet take the field packing directed lightning blasters to supplement their fearful array of flying disco dazzle-cannon, crowd-griddling microwave-oven guns and vomit-ray phasers.

Never a dull moment with the American weapons boffins. ®

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