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DARPA in bid for shark-portable laser rayguns

Flimsy strato-robot cover story widely discounted

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DARPA, the Pentagon tech bureau which has conferred upon a suffering human race such boons as the internet, the stealth bomber and the night-vision goggle, has finally made a bid to achieve that which humanity has yearned for above all other things. We refer, of course, to a laser weapon sufficiently portable to be carried on the head of a shark.

The military mayhem-profs refer to their new scheme as Fibre Laser Pulse Source, or FILPS. According to a recently-released presolicitation document (Word docx format - you may need to download add-ons to read):

The FILPS program will culminate in a UAV compatible system that generates 10-mJ, sub-ns duration optical pulses at a 25-kHz repetition rate. The output pulse characteristics, including phase stability, pulse jitter, and laser beam quality, should be sufficient to enable efficient pulse energy scaling to the 100-mJ level via coherent combining.

As any fule can easily work out, that means a power output of up to 2.5 kilowatts - not a battle-strength ray able to vaporise a flying artillery shell in the blink of an eye, but still a pretty hot beam. It would only have to be held on a target for about a third of a second to deliver as much energy as a 9mm pistol bullet does.

But we've seen all this before, haven't we? Whenever an acceptably powerful laser is offered, it always turns out that you'd need a shark the size of a cross-Channel ferry to lift it, let alone its power systems. The world's supervillains have long despaired of a true head-mounted energy weapon solution for realistically sized execution-pool menagerie.

But now the waiting may be at an end. DARPA specify that FILPS should weigh no more than 10kg and have a volume of no more than 10 litres. Admittedly this would need to be scaled up for the higher-end output, and there'd be power sources to consider, but even so a two-tonne great white - surely the shark-pool choice of the more discerning evil billionaire - should have no great difficulty wearing such a device. Indeed, the FILPS technology might come close to putting an almost-practicable, almost useful combat raygun in the hands of puny humans at last.

DARPA, of course, offer a semi-plausible cover story about using the FILPS lasers on "high-altitude UAV platform". No doubt they would suggest that the idea is to use FILPS for such purposes as long-range communications or target designation from stratospheric platforms such as the hydrogen-fuelled Global Observer plane, or the planned solar-powered robot radar dirigible.

But I think we all know what's really going on here. ®

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