Feeds

DARPA orders 'fridge-sized' laser energy cannon

Giant GM sharks with strengthened necks expected

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

American weaponry researchers have awarded a $21m contract for the design and development of a 150-kilowatt energy weapon, high-powered enough to blast missiles out of the sky yet light enough to be carried by a jet fighter.

The cash-in the newly-inked deal goes to Textron Defence Systems, who will in return "fabricate and test a Unit Cell Module for a 150 kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LWS) and develop a critical design for the 150kW LWS".

One need hardly add that the greenbacks come not from any normal US government weapons lab but rather from DARPA, the Pentagon's very own inflight pieshop.

In this case, however, the agency isn't seeking pie in the sky so much as rayguns in the sky. The idea of the agency's High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defence system is to make combat-power lasers light enough to put on "tactical aircraft" - that is, fighters rather than great big transports. Present-day rayguns are so heavy that they can only be lifted by C-130 haulers or jumbo jets.

It's nice to put energy cannons in the sky, according to DARPA, because they shoot in straight lines. Anything beyond the horizon can't be blasted, meaning that a laser on the ground can't engage low-flying or surface targets unless they come close.

A patrolling raygun fighter, in DARPA's thinking, would be able to blast bombardment rockets, artillery shells and suchlike in mid-flight across a large region - hence the "area defence" tag. If anyone sought to meddle with the aerial raygun umbrella, perhaps using a pesky anti-aircraft missile, that too could easily be beamed out of existence.

"The capability to shoot down tactical targets such as surface-to-air missiles and rockets will be demonstrated," according to DARPA's programme chief, Don Woodbury.

Textron Systems’ Dr John Boness believes that the DARPA cash will “accelerate the deployment of practical Directed Energy Weapons to the warfighter".

Originally the HELLADS system was to use a liquid laser medium pumped by light-emitting diodes - hence the name - but Textron now say they will be using "proprietary ThinZag® Ceramic solid-state" tech. DARPA have previously said the final 150kW demo module should "weigh just 750 kilograms and fit into a space about the size of a large refrigerator".

This isn't exactly pocket-size, but compared to solid state laser weapons already on sale HELLADS would be about a third the weight for a given level of output power. That could be enough, as DARPA suggest, to enable the long-desired shift from boring old laser tanks to raygun fighters.

One need hardly add that the bonkers-boffinry outfit has plans to fit its new fridge-sized beam cannons to flying robots too. We also confidently anticipate the announcement of plans to tinker with sharks' DNA so as to produce larger and more powerful specimens with especially strong necks. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.