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HELL-beam project now one step from jet-fighter raygun

DARPA fridge laser. Advantage: Shark

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US military boffinry chiefs have stated that they will shortly issue a brace of contracts for "refrigerator sized" laser blaster cannons. One of the deals will see a full-power ground prototype built which will be the final stage prior to America's first raygun-equipped jet fighter.

The news comes in a pair of notices issued by renowned Pentagon propellerhead bureau DARPA, under the agency's High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defence System (HELLADS) programme. The notices, required by federal acquisition rules, reveal DARPA's intention to award two sole-source contracts to Textron Defence Systems and famous tech firm General Atomics.

The idea of HELLADS is to make a battle-strength 150 kilowatt laser light enough to be carried in a "tactical" aircraft, ie a fighter or similar rather than a massive lumbering transport plane. Current combat rayguns require at the very least a Hercules hauler to lift them, or even a jumbo jet in the case of the biggest. Such monster systems are of questionable usefulness in normal warfare - they are only seen as having a niche in unusual tasks such as shooting down nuclear missiles or unattributably burning holes in truck bonnets.

But a smaller HELL-beam mounted on a fighter that one could send out above the battlefield could be a lot handier. At height, allowing the line-of-sight laser beams to dominate a broad horizon, it could sweep the skies of such things as artillery or mortar shells, bombardment rockets etc - hence the "area defence" bit. If any pitiful fool tried to tackle the HELL-fighter with outmoded trash such as anti-aircraft missiles, these too would be beamed out of existence.

According to DARPA, the maximum feasible size for a tactical jet HELL-ray is "refrigerator sized", and the maximum weight is 750kg.

The two DARPA deals foreshadowed today will see the HELLADS Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS) assembled. According to DARPA this is the penultimate stage, a ground unit intended to prove that a fighter blaster-cannon pod can indeed be built:

This unit cell demonstration will validate the ability to produce output power and beam quality required to meet the full scale 150kW performance within the weight and volume goals through integration of replicated unit cells.

Quite apart from the raygun fighter plan, one should note that the competing HELL-beams offered by GA and Textron are to be assembled from many lesser laser "cells". Overall the technology is intended to produce blaster weaponry of "<5 kg/kW" weight-to-power ratio, scalable up and down in size.

If it scales down far enough, this would seem to put handheld HELL-guns within an order of magnitude of the striking power offered by conventional small-arms. A 9mm pistol bullet has about 750 joules muzzle energy: a 5kg portable HELL-ray weapon would put out this much energy in a blast less than a second long.

HELL-beam carbines and possible battlefield-dominating raygun fighters are all very well, of course, but by now our apparently large readership of evil billionaires will be impatiently skipping ahead to find out the consequences in terms of home/lair defence applications. Specifically, defence against tiresome government agents and/or their scantily-clad feminine assistants, black-clad SWAT-commando frogman allies etc, implemented by execution-pool sharks employing head-mounted energy weapons.

Well, a dolphin can carry a human being weighing up to 100kg along for a ride. A thoroughbred shark in good training can surely match this. Thus, we seem to be looking at practicable head-lazor output in the 20-kilowatt range, roughly equating to a submachinegun with a cyclic rate well over 1500 rounds per minute. This is more than double that offered by the Heckler & Koch MP5 favoured by government SWAT operatives worldwide.

Advantage: laser shark. ®

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