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US Army developing world’s most powerful laser weapon for a ‘future battlefield’

Concept image for a laser weapons system. (US Army/Released)
June 10, 2021

The U.S. Army is building the world’s most powerful laser weapon, capable of vaporizing targets and interrupting adversaries’ technology signals. The weapon is over one million times more powerful than any other laser developed before, NewScientist reported.

According to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) website, the laser system, known as the Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser (USPL) for Army Platforms, will stand apart from current lasers by emitting short pulses that rely on low energy, unlike current lasers which typically produce continuous waves.

“The Army is preparing the warfighter for a future battlefield with rapidly modernizing militaries while new threats and gaps are emerging,” the SBIR website stated in a brief explaining the future laser system.

According to the report, the system being developed will reach a terawatt for 200 femtoseconds, or one quadrillionth of a second. The split-second laser would be capable of incinerating a drone. The laser is also being designed to interrupt electronic signals by emitting an electromagnetic pulse.

NewScientist reported that the United States hopes to have a prototype in trials by 2022.

The laser weapons would change how the military combats fast-moving, small drones and missiles, as well as human enemies, with human reactions ranging from skin irritation to blindness.

“These kilowatt-class CW laser systems predominantly engage targets via absorption of light; either causing the target to burn and melt or overwhelming optical sensors with high intensities,” the brief stated.

“This call aims to develop an USPL that is ruggedized enough to begin testing in relevant Army environments,” it continued.

The Army also began testing a prototype laser weapon for close-range air defense in May, the Defense Post reported. The high-energy laser will be able to locate, lock on, track and destroy aerial threats in just seconds.

“Twenty-three months ago, this was just an idea,” Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Joseph Martin, told Stars and Stripes. “It’s very promising. It’s very powerful. There are many things we’ve got to do in terms of testing, and it’s about to go through a shootout to see how it does.”

The laser can detect and destroy enemy drones within five miles, the report stated.  

“We’ve got a target acquisition system that can sense and lock-on and then strike a moving mortar round, a moving cruise missile, an unmanned aerial system, and other aircraft… It will penetrate and disrupt that particular munition or platform’s ability to accomplish its mission,” Martin said. “That’s an incredible power to have. That is the kind of capability we have to have, and it demonstrates our ability to respond to the world around us with technology.”