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'Transportable' raygun 'deploys' - across Albuquerque

Early test sharks struggle under burden of 40' containers

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US flying-and-exploding-stuff globocorp Boeing has announced successful tests of a mobile "rapid deployment" complete laser weapon system. Sadly the company has missed the widely accepted shark-portability standard by a huge margin.

In fact, Boeing's "Re-Deployable High-Energy Laser System (RHELS)", while handy and lightweight in the context of present-day energy weapons (typical applications involve large cargo aircraft or even jumbo jets), is still distinctly cumbersome. After an intensive miniaturisation effort, the company has managed to pack a functioning - if not perhaps very functional - weapon into "a modified 40-foot-long shipping container transportable on a semitrailer".

Should you wish to take your RHELS laser cannon with you somewhere, this is easily accomplished with the use of an unobtrusive eighteen-wheeler articulated pantechnicon. Boeing recently tried this out, according to company representatives, rapidly despatching the deadly raygun to a test site in just the same fashion as US forces hurtling around the globe toward an emerging trouble spot.

Well, sort of. In fact the RHELS trailer "deployed" from its home in Albuquerque to a test facility in, erm, Albuquerque. Amazingly, according to Boeing, this took "only a few hours". The raygun then fired some test blasts at a stationary ground target and "tracked" some airborne targets, but "due to test-range restrictions, the system did not fire at moving targets".

"RHELS demonstrates that a solid-state, high-energy laser weapon system can be transportable, rugged, supportable and affordable," claimed Boeing blaster-cannon honcho Gary Fitzmire after the two-week trials, which began last month.

"RHELS drives tactical directed-energy laser systems out of the laboratory and into the hands of the warfighter," he added.

Or in this case, out of the laboratory and into another laboratory nearby.

Despite the hefty nature of the RHELS, power levels don't seem to be very impressive. The company doesn't specify these, but does say that the project "maintains future scalability to many tens of kilowatts of laser power."

Battle-strength lasers have now surpassed 100 kilowatt at around 1.5 tonnes for the beam generator. Given that Boeing's RHELS is aimed at the US Army's High Energy Laser Tech Demonstrator (HEL TD) programme, required to fit into mighty 8x8 military lorries with ten-tonne payloads, one might hope for scalability into the multi hundreds of kilowatts in this context, not just tens.

This sort of gear might one day zap insurgent mortar shells or rockets as they plunged down into military bases in far-flung warzones, which is nice. But for the moment it's all looking a bit unimpressive. Any tech henchman who turned up and told his supervillain boss that there'd been some kind of problem and it wouldn't even be ill-tempered mutated sea bass with the lazors on them, but enormous monster trucks - well, he'd be looking at a spell in the sub-conference-room motivational flame pit, we suggest. ®

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