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Fiber Lasers Mean Ray Guns Are Coming

A clever configuration of industrial lasers is set to finally make laser weapons practical

14 min read
Illustration: MCKIBILLO
Illustration: MCKIBILLO

The U.S. Navy’s most advanced laser weapon looks like a pricey amateur telescope. As it emerges from a chassis high on the USS Ponce to look out onto the daytime sky above the Persian Gulf, its operator sits in a darkened room elsewhere on the ship holding what looks like a game controller. The screen before him is showing a small boat floating near the Ponce, carrying a dark object. The infrared beam hitting the object is invisible, but you can see one spot grow brighter until the object suddenly explodes, sending metal shards spiraling into the water.

This weapon, cobbled together from a half-dozen industrial cutting and welding lasers to produce a total power of only 30 kilowatts, was hardly the megawatt monster military scientists dreamed of decades ago to shoot down ICBMs. But it’s a major milestone, advocates say, toward a future in which directed-energy weapons are deployed in real military engagements. Such a future, they add, will come from changes in mission and in technology. The mission shift has been going on for years, from global defense against nuclear-armed “rogue states” to local defense against insurgents. The technology shift has been more abrupt, toward the hot new solid-state technology of optical-fiber lasers. These are the basis of a fast-growing US $2 billion industry that has reengineered the raw materials of global telecommunications to cut and weld metals, and it is now being scaled to even higher power with devastating effect.

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An engineer’s dinner-table invention is finally a consumer product

4 min read
A mounted and running showerhead that says oasense and has a blue light on it.
Oasense

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Keysight
Keysight

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