Despite Your Skepticism, Lasers Are Being Used By The Military

November 21 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Security   Year: 2010   Rating: 5 Hot

The Economist reports that a Humvee-mounted laser is already being used in Iraq to detonate roadside bombs which have plagued the military over the years. And yes, it’s named after the Greek God of lightening.

The Zeus laser (I am inclined to say cannon for all you Final Fantasy fans out there) possesses a range of 300 meters (just shy of 1,000 feet) and has been successfully used in Iraq. Although they only possess one Humvee equipped with the laser, plans are in effect to make more.

Why is the military laser-crazy?

Lasers are the dream weapon for the military. You can fire them from incredible distances with pinpoint accuracy and have the potential to be a game-changer in any battle. Advanced lasers could be used to detonate RPGs or missiles before they get to the target, they can punch through walls, and could potentially blow up ICBMs before they get too far off the ground (Reagan’s infamous Star Wars plan). There’s no ammunition concerns, just power, and despite being totally un-serviceable in the field, the lack of moving parts makes the possibility of breaking very slim.

Are lasers the future?

Despite being incredibly handy, lasers could run into some problems due to the condition of their victims. Some could see the implementation of lasers making a game out of warfare by mimicking video games. Equipping UAVs with lasers brings this concern to a reality. Although everyone loves a quick war, the populace might not take kindly to this kind of warfare. And as with most military technology, will we start seeing civilian applications? God help us.

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. Lasers seem like an obvious next step for the military, however, the whole notion is still extremely frightening.

    Posted by: chelss28   November 22, 2008
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  2. Lasers offer several tactical advantages; if you have sufficient power to fire the thing at all you have the ability to fire it repeatedly without need for ammunition supply or re-load, the maintenance requirements are no different to those of other support weapons (you don’t repair inoperative cannon or tanks in the field, you retrieve them to a rear-area repair facility), the capability to engage a variety of potential targets from a single weapon platform are only three examples that illustrate the military interest.

    The principal disadvantage of lasers to date is that they transfer only excited energy, not kinetic energy. An obligingly stable (or at least visible) target can recieve tremendous doses of thermal energy in a surprisingly brief timespan, but even a light screen of the proper design can serve to protect a target since no laser can move it aside or burn through it quickly enough to avoid being shot back at.

    My own belief is that lasers will find their greatest military application as performance enhancement technology for more traditional kinetic energy weapon designs (think artillery shell that provides delivery and laser target guidance to integral inertial sub-munitions as one possibility).


    I have to say John, I find this statement by you rather disturbing:

    ”... and could potentially blow up ICBMs before they get too far off the ground (Reagan’s infamous Star Wars plan).”

    my bold

    Do you find the R&D process of the desktop computer or cell phone to be equally ideologically reprehensible? Both have their origins in military applications also and each took many years and great expense to attain a commercial (or even only practical) degree of capability. As long as your sensibilities are outraged anyway, carefully examine the research origins for lasik eye surgery – the technology, not the technique.

    Do the warts or halitosis of the builder and/or financial backer of a technology really figure into it’s value as technology? If so, what degree does the Rape of Nanking play in your evaluation of anime production technology?

    If the nature of the developers is somehow relevant to a devices utility or function then by all means make that plain. Otherwise, is it really necessary to editorialize in such a tiresome fashion? I enjoy this site and hope to continue doing so, but I have to say that the casual inclusion of ideological purity qualifications on these pages detracts from the experience. Is the future and the tech it presents to be judged by the historical quirks of its development or by the capability it provides and the use we and our decendants might put it to?

    Posted by: Will   November 25, 2008
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  3. Related read this one yesterday, about use of lasers

    Posted by: tristanh   December 02, 2008
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  4. @Will The reason I mention Reagan’s Star Wars plan and call it infamous is because everyone and their mother has heard of it. As for military research, I’m all for it. Military research has brought us some amazing technology (my favorite story is how they accidentally discovered the microwave in trying to develop a radar which could pick up enemy periscopes). It’s sad that we don’t have this kind of development in the non-military world (at least on that scale) but I’ll take it. If military tech crosses over into the real world and doesn’t retain it’s iron-monger heritage then what’s the problem?

    Posted by: John Heylin   December 03, 2008
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