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Northrop scoops DARPA laser RIFLe cash

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US weaponry goliath Northrop Grumman has landed a contract to develop new, lightweight, efficient rayguns for the American armed forces.

The technology push is called "Revolution In Fibre Lasers" (RIFL) and is intended to scale up the amount of power delivered by fibre laser systems. Fibre lasers might offer more efficient laser weapons in future, which wasted less of their input energy.

"We'll build on internal successes demonstrating the ability to scale and operate single frequency fibers at high powers," said Dan Wildt, Northrop raygun veep.

"RIFL will enable us to scale this important technology to weapons-class powers."

Under the Phase I award, Northrop get $4.5m and might pick up the same again on Phase II if they do well. The company has claimed significant breakthroughs in raygun tech recently, in particular with solid-state lasers. Northrop believes it will be able to show off the first 100 kilowatt, weapons strength solid state laser by the end of the year.

Solid-state electrical lasers are more practical than the only present-day energy weapons, chemical lasers which run on exotic, toxic fuels, and create very hazardous exhaust products. But fibre lasers could be more efficient still.

It almost goes without saying that RIFL is a product of DARPA, the Pentagon's intellectual polytunnel for growing colossal mutant technology marrows out of season.

DARPA has previously said that it would like RIFL to produce weapons which weigh as little as 5kg per kilowatt of energy ray output. Given that a really heavy personal weapon - say, a .50 rifle - can run to 15kg, that could lead to portable rayguns able to put out three kilowatts or more. Of course, that's without considering the power supply. ®

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