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Aerial laser gunboat 'burns hole in fender' of moving car

World's evil shark-owning billionaires unimpressed

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The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) ray-cannon, mounted in a specially-equipped Hercules transport plane flying above New Mexico, has now succeeded in "putting a hole in the fender" of a ground vehicle driving along beneath it.

The not particularly awesome result was announced by Boeing, maker of the ATL, yesterday.

"In this test, a directed energy weapon successfully demonstrated direct attack on a moving target," said Gary Fitzmire, Boeing raygun veep. Though that is nothing new; Boeing's Humvee-mounted "Laser Avenger" ray-turret shot down a small flying robot earlier this year.

Undaunted, Fitzmire goes on to say that "ATL has now precisely targeted and engaged both stationary and moving targets, demonstrating the transformational versatility of this speed-of-light, ultra-precision engagement capability that will dramatically reduce collateral damage".

Indeed, the ATL seems to reduce not just collateral damage but damage inflicted on the actual desired target, too. Generally a Hercules equipped to conduct ground attack - in the form of the popular AC-130 "Spectre"/"Spooky" gunships - bristles with a broadside of devastating firepower including 105mm artillery pieces, 120mm heavy mortars, 40mm cannon etc.

By contrast the ATL - also dubbed the "Laser Gunship" by Boeing - offers a single 20-tonne weapon system capable of a limited number of "shots", perhaps as few as six. The six-tonne chemical laser must be refuelled with dangerous toxic fuels once it is empty, a procedure much more logistically troublesome than loading regular ammo aboard an AC-130.

The actual effect of the laser appears to be distinctly limited, too, as the vid above of an earlier trial against a stationary vehicle indicates. Boeing's talk of "putting a hole in a fender" of a moving (unmanned) ground vehicle is equally unimpressive. And one notes that the firm, in yesterday's announcement, walked back slightly on its earlier claim that the ATL had "defeated" a stationary ground vehicle in a previous test - now Boeing only says that vehicle was "damaged".

The option of using the raygun plane as a silent, undetectable, unattributable sniper would seem to remain - it could perhaps strike from as far off as 20km, beyond audible and even perhaps visual detection. No telltale bullet or projectile would remain at the scene. But this seems a pretty marginal capability given the expense and logistic burden. The secret supertroopers of the US Special Operations Command - the operators of the existing AC-130 fleet - would seem likely to stay with their current equipment.

The news will doubtless have a depressing effect in evil billionaire circles. It would seem that the day of the cranially mounted, shark-portable, waterproof pool menagerie above-water combat augmentation system remains as far off as ever. ®

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