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A US military tech project aimed at developing portable, functional battlefield energy weapons has successfully achieved initial goals and is now moving on towards "weapons-class performance levels".

The project in question is the optimistically-named Revolution In Fiber Lasers (RIFL), ultimately intended to deliver war-grade 100 kilowatt beams from equipment weighing less than 5kg per kilowatt.

US weaponry behemoth Northrop Grumman was awarded a Phase I RIFL development contract in 2008. Yesterday the firm announced that it had achieved complete success in the Phase I goals and has duly been awarded a new Phase II deal.

"This is an important step in the maturation of fiber laser technology," said Dan Wildt, Northrop rayguns-department honcho. "By surpassing Phase I goals, we are in an excellent position for success in Phase II. Success in Phase II will create a powerful springboard for scaling fiber lasers to weapons-class performance levels."

Under RIFL Phase I, the firm claims to have bumped efficiency to 30 per cent, a noticeable boost from previous kit which had only been able to put 20 per cent of its input power into the actual beam. These low efficiencies don't just mean a need for a bigger and heavier power supply: they also mean that current energy weapons actually deliver more striking power onto themselves in the form of waste heat than they do onto the target. Getting rid of this heat safely is a major technical issue, and the necessary equipment is a significant part of a raygun installation.

Quite apart from getting a biggish chunk of heat out of the gun and down the beam, Northrop claims that its Phase I RIFL module also offers "polarization extinction ratio of 50:1, and extremely low phase noise, which is essential for the coherent combination of laser chains used to scale power to weapons-class levels".

Under Phase II, the company will look to develop a new and yet-badder RIFL, tripling the power of a single module to 3kW and moving towards combination of such modules so as to produce a 100kW war-grade ray.

Just the laser gear for this would weigh at least half a tonne, however, not to mention the associated 400-horsepower generator, beam control, heatsink unit etc. We're looking here more at a large tank- or warship-sized job than a laser RIFLe as such.

Laser combat vehicles, ships or aircraft could change warfare significantly by picking flying missiles and artillery shells out of the air at light speed.

For more colourful applications in the field of home supervillainry - for instance the slicing up of tiresome government operatives and/or their saucy female sidekicks while fastened down on a table, hatmounted hench-shark directed energy accoutrements, etc - the Reg's apparently large readership of evil billionaires may have to wait a while. ®

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