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By Eric Pickhartz via

We all knew this day would come: now we have laser weapons that can do some serious damage. Lockheed Martin just announced that their latest prototype, the ATHENA, has registered the highest power ever documented by a laser weapon of its kind . . .

ATHENA, which stands for Advanced Test High Energy Asset, is a ground-based prototype system. On this occasion, it burned through the engine manifold of a pickup truck in a matter of seconds from more than a mile away. The truck was mounted on a test platform with its engine and drive train running to simulate a real world scenario.

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Uses for weaponry of this kind is both fascinating and terrifying. In the right hands, these laser weapons could change the world for good. But in the wrongs hands, the devastation could be unimaginable.

And as technological advances eventually do, laser weaponry may someday make its way to the private sector.

We’re already banning the use of drones in hunting and fishing, how far away are we from addressing the use of lasers?

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  1. No bullet drop or wind drift with a weapon that hits the target almost instantly…

    I want one.

      • Hell, just have some aerosol mist grenades handy. You think the enemy has a laser weapon trained on you? Poof! Now you’ve rendered their powerful high tech weapon useless with evaporated water.

        • 2 vey wrong assumptions:

          1 – you can see the path of a laser before it strikes (you can’t)

          2 – You can react in time to throw out the smoke. Also the smoke would do something.

        • I can, under certain instances, dodge a paintball moving at about 200 mph. That’s well below the speed of sound. I cannot avoid a supersonic bullet, or even a transonic or subsonic .45 ACP, even though I can see them flying unser certain angles and light conditions.

          There is no way anyone, anywhere can “avoid” a laser beam moving at over 671 million miles per hour inside a 1 mile effective range. It takes a laser about 1/186,000th of a second to travel a mile.

        • Well for pity’s sake A81, I hope you can still leap tall buildings at a single bound or I’ll be totally disillusioned.

        • @Accur81

          Who are you talking to? If it’s me, I’m pointing out their assumptions not saying you can dodge a laser (beam).

          Also, are they attached to sharks?

        • Just to clarify what the original commentator is saying for the benefit of any other morons who want to make stupid replies- while you can’t dodge a laser after seeing it’s been fired (that whole speed of light thing), if you are aware that your enemies utilize lasers, it seems like it would be wise to utilize some trivially simple countermeasures that provide the equivalent protection that 2″ thick steel plate would give against .22LR.

        • High energy lasers cannot be defeated by smoke clouds and mirrors. The optics involved in focusing the laser have to be of very high quality, any defect will cause the lenses to explode.

        • This isn’t some fraction-of-a-second BSG laser blast, this laser was trained on an optimized fixed target for several seconds.

          In it’s present form it would be useful once or twice against a structured enemy. They would immediately issue inexpensive laser detectors (under $50 per), deploy any one of a dozen inexpensive countermeasures, and train folks to “get off the x” when the detector detected.

          Rail guns are much farther along at this point in time. The only place on the planet with a laser (actually it’s 192 into one) that could actually do some instant, science-fiction damage is Lawrence Livermore. And carrying the NIF around would be a bit impractical…

        • Randall, While it may look impressive, it’s really not that powerful in absolute terms. Regardless of the propaganda, there is no such thing as light that cannot be diffused, refracted, or reflected. So while the ‘smoke’ needs to be better than a marker canister, and the reflector needs to be just a bit better than over your vanity, the laws of physics don’t get suspended for the military contractor hype machine. That was a highly optimized test scenario.

          The Chinese are focusing their efforts on countermeasures (active and passive). – because it’s much easier and cheaper than developing your own laser weapons. People used to say you could never hide from radar, and we’ve shown that can be done. Lasers are even easier to defeat until you get into megawatt power levels.

        • High energy lasers cannot be defeated by smoke clouds and mirrors.

          Please explain why. A dense cloud of smoke would reduce the luminous intensity of the beam which could render its ability to cut steel impossible. Carbon atoms in the smoke particles when excited would not emit a photon in the same direction of the beam (lasing) – this disperses the light.

        • Look folks, this isn’t hard: Mount some heat sensing lining in the hull. You don’t need to dodge bullets or be faster than the speed of light to register high temperatures or actuate a circuit. Go youtube a few clips. A tank can dial up a smoke screen pretty quickly.

          Of course, Joe Terrorist in his rusted out late model Chevy is probably SOL just like the pic, but any competent military should be able to defeat this if they even try.

        • 671 million miles per hour is about 1,1160,000 miles per minuet, or 186,000 miles per second.

          Calculators, dude…

      • @RandallOfLegend –

        Two ways to do it.

        All the energy in one beam, or focus many smaller beams on one spot.

      • HEL-MD a 10kW system, is currently deployed. It’s on an OshKosh 8×8. Theoretically upgradable to a 100kW system on the same platform.

  2. I think any organization with the money and interest in this thing required to buy one will qualify as the wrong hands.

  3. I was actually wondering about the use of laser against drones. Most have some sort of optic and airline pilots have reported being blinded by yahoos with laser pointers for awhile now. Maybe there will be a day when your own personal backyard laser defense turret will be swatting down mosquitoes and the Johnson’s nosy quadcopter the next time you have a nude barbecue…

    • I couldn’t find it on Google but a few years back a guy did just that, a laser mosquito zapper.

      I think it was in MIT’s ‘Technology Review’.

  4. I always knew that Val Kilmer’s antics could only delay the technology for so long.

  5. A 50 bmg would have been a lot cheaper and faster. Lasers are not that impressive to me. Come up with a small revolutionary power source and I’ll be interested.

    • Agreed. Neat idea, but they take too much power to really be effective. Plus, freaking evaporated water can render lasers basically useless. No, the weapon of the future that really interests me is the railgun. Using electromagnets to accelerate a heavy, non-explosive projectile to such a high velocity that it impacts with the force of a huge bomb? That’s way cooler that lasers.

      • Railguns are badass, but don’t they run into the same problem as lasers of this ilk? Namely, that the power supply has to be quite large?

        EDIT: I failed to acknowledge your comment about steam affecting lasers. That alone would be a huge setback on the battlefield. That fact aside, what about railguns makes them more feasible than lasers? I ask out of curiosity, not to be ornery.

        • I don’t think anyone is proposing railguns for man-portable weapons, any that are worth the bother are way too heavy for that. But for artillery, especially naval artillery, that problem is easier to solve. Obviously, on big ships, you just plug it to the ship’s power system (ideally, that is nuclear). For field artillery it’s more complicated, but it is actually possible to produce fairly compact portable nuclear reactors, and given the range of railguns, they wouldn’t exactly be deployed at the frontline.

        • Longbeach:

          You’re right, railguns also need a large power source, but it’s worse than that – the supplies have to be different types.

          Say I want to deliver a megajoule to my target … roughly half a stick of dynamite’s worth of energy.

          To do that with my 100 kW laser (ignoring atmospheric attenuation, etc.) I will need to fire my laser for 10 seconds, and I have to feed it at least 100 kW of power during that time. Okay, there are any number of ways I can do that … big generator, flywheel, batteries, chemical reaction, etc., and it’s not a particularly high power, actually.

          To deliver that same MJ with my railgun (ignoring atmospheric friction, etc.), which let’s say for the sake of argument is tossing a 200-gram projectile, I have to get the sucker up to around 3150 meters per second, or around Mach 9.2. Let’s further say I have a 1-meter rail; then assuming the acceleration is constant, the projectile will be in on the rails and accelerating for all of 0.00063 seconds. And that means my average power delivery during the shot is somewhere around 1.5 GW, or – very briefly – on the scale of a decent-sized nuclear power reactor. (Assuming I did the math right .. it’s late.) To do that, unless I go to something exotic, I’m probably looking at a capacitor bank because there’s not a lot else out there that can safety and controllably store and then dump energy that fast.

          So, all else equal, railgun power supplies have to discharge over a much faster time frame, because that’s how long the projectile is in the “barrel.” So while both systems might wind up delivering the same total energy, the railgun PS has the arguably harder job.

        • Ummm. Check out a Company called Metal Storm. They have “electronically fired projectiles” stacked inside a barrel. And one that can fire about a million rounds a minute. Has 36 barrels.

          And they also have a handgun.

        • The Metal Storm tech has nothing to do with rail or coilgun tech AFAIK, its more akin to a gyro-jet launch platform that instead of each projectile needing to provide thrust on it’s own, the blowback action + whatever propellant between each “cartridge” (not really a cartridge, just a bullet) allows the shots to keep flying out at whatever rate or pre-determined rate the shooter wants since the ammo is already “chambered” and ready to fire just by being loaded, which is all end-to-end inside the barrel. Effectively like a super-high tech full auto matchlock that can rain shots at an insane rate with little recoil. It’s been a while since I looked into Metal Storm and how they were coming along, though. I’m guessing “electronically fired” just means a trigger pull closes/opens a circuit that begins and ends the cycling. I could be way off, though.

        • Mike

          Metal storm is not a rail gun, it uses stacked projectiles launched with conventional chemical propellants. They are electronically ignited, not electronically propelled.

        • Good use for MetalStorm would be for push-button firing automated firing squad. Standing the accused before a 10×10 metalstorm matrix should do the job.

        • Metalstorm from down under? They were insolvent about 5 years ago, and again a couple of years ago. If they’re still in business it’s in one of those funky UK-derived receivership/administration deals.

      • You’d need a lot of evaporated water to do anything against a 30kW laser. Boeing’s already demonstrated that their HEL MD system, which only uses a 10kW laser, can still destroy it’s target in rain, fog, and wind.

      • You reaaalllly dont have an understanding of how lasers of this caliber work, do you? I don’t want to be rude or anything.. But you’re completely wrong. The focusing optics, coupled with a reference laser and a targetting computer of sorts will completely refocus the beam to hit the target, even through fog.

        Please stop spreading this misinformation.

        • Erm, no.

          Laser weapons are generally speaking line-of-sight. Literally, if you see it, your laser can – depending on a number of other factors – hit it. If you can’t see it, there will be some issues. Same holds for near-infrared, which is where most of these lasers are going to be operating.

          Adaptive optics generally rely on getting light to the target and back again.

      • For equally bad ass, ultra-destructive lower-tech systems that are purely kinetic (like a railgun, coilgun/gauss gun or mass driver) just Google the generics: kinetic energy penetrator, relativistic kill vehicle; and specifics: Project Thor, Rods from God, Brilliant Pebbles and Steel Chrysanthemum. I wouldn’t doubt that the concept behind each of these systems are fully functional or even deployed in some way already on a smaller scale.

  6. I’ve been reading about this for the last couple days, there are rumors about Northrop-Grumman and/or RayTheon Co. finishing up clandestine testing in some island chains for the Navy and Air Force that are impressive as well for different purposes in the 50-100kw range. Possibly Close-In-Weapons-System/Phalanx unit or anti-personnel related.

  7. How long before that hits the civilian market? I just want to hear Shannon pee herself. I want to mount that to my Sig Mosquito.

    • Actually, they would be thrilled. If they can force us to only have phasers set to stun, they would love that.

  8. dont worry. lasers werent weapons in common use at the time of the founding fathers, so they arent covered by the second amendment. they will certainly be classified under the unusual and destructive weapons provisions of the department of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms lasers and really big fires and explosions. private citizens wont have to worry about ever getting the chance to own, carry, or use weapons grade directed energy weapons

    • But it’s “…the right to keep and bear ARMS, shall not be infringed.” It doesn’t say firearms. It doesn’t say “arms in use today.” A laser weapon is an “arm.” The Framers were wise. If only our government appreciated that.

      • Doesn’t matter. They’ll say “not a firearm, the 2A doesn’t apply” just like NY did with tasers.

        • I can see them pulling that, oh no lasers are covered by the 2A. That is if the 2A will even still exist by then.

  9. But they don’t want us lowly citizens to have green tipped ammo. However, by some anti gun groups my “evil” black rifle is capable of shooting down aircraft, stopping locomotives, and shooting through schools. Why the laser?

  10. “The best diplomat that I know is a fully-loaded phaser bank.” — Lt. Cdr. Montgomery Scott (“A Taste of Armageddon”)

    Mr Sulu, lock phasers on target and await my command. — Kirk

    • “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side kid.” – Capt Han Solo

      • Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a truck is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

  11. But can it be powered with sunlight, a gentle breeze, or bunny farts? If not greenies will object.

    • LASERs and MASERs have had a lot of uses in warfare indirectly and slightly in direct ways, but the last few years have seen a very direct-application LASER-mindset because of power sources becoming more powerful and portable. The Navy in particular has a lot of good in-development platforms due to their vehicles’ easy access to a constant flow of seawater for large cooling and heat-sink assemblies. The Air Force has some damn awesome applications for foiling both active and semi-active radar, IR, anti-radiation and electroptical seeking A2A missiles.

    • As rangefinders, designators and illuminators, yes.

      There are already treaties in place against using lasers specifically with the intent for blinding humans (see for instance), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t or didn’t happen accidentally … or “accidentally.”

      There have also been rumors about development of laser systems intended to blind pilots in case all the treaties go out the window at some point.

      There’s also been a long history of development of very high-power lasers, such as chemical lasers like the on the Airborne Laser was intended to use; but those usually resemble small chemical factories rather than anything that looks like a weapons system, and none were ever officially deployed. (The use of chemical reactants presents some serious issues, both logistics / supply and the fact that the reactants tend to be rather unpleasant.)

      But up until the deployment of the US Navy’s ~100 kW system on the USS Ponce last year, there hasn’t been an official acknowledgement of a laser weapons system both high-power enough to cause rapid materiel damage and portable.

      • Not acknowledged? Huh? Every time a contractor has something even remotely functional, let alone deployable, the press releases are frakkin’ everywhere.

        N-G was shouting about FIRESTRIKE back in ’08 (15kW modules) and talking about the successful firing of a 100kW at Redondo back in ’09.

        • I should have said, “acknowledged as deployed.”

          That given, it’s one thing for a defense contractor to make a press release about how well their system did in initial tests, or what-have-you. It’s quite another for the armed services to class the thing as TRL 9 and start acting on procurement, teaching conduct-of-operations to the troops, and fielding something.

          We’ve also had flying car prototypes trumped now and again for the last 50 – 60 years at least.

        • Fair enough, I’m just not quite sure what you mean by “acknowledge as deployed”. If it’s in the process of being deployed, there’s press galore on something like this. The only things kept quiet are those which would be marginally/extremely illegal under current treaties/bans. Every possible means to blind with lasers is quite refined, it’s just not publicly acknowledged, or “deployed” due to the pesky “agreements”. NRL and AFRL have done much work on this, including AFRL’s “PHaSr” project which claims to be non-blinding, till you read the actual papers…

          They were publicly trumpeting HEL-MD as deployed as it was heading that way. It now is deployed and no secret since day one. There aren’t many tech mysteries if you read a good science aggregator, and a good patent aggregator. It may be “top secret”, but the reality is somebody/corp still filed a patent, and did a white paper on the theory of operation.

          I’m not saying there aren’t secrets, I’m just saying for rote stuff like lasers, it’s pretty much all public if you know what journals to read and how to parse Fedzilla science-speak.

    • We have green lipped mussels in New Zealand. Should they be considered banned as well?

  12. Great news. The G gets more weaponry to use against it’s own people. What could go wrong?

  13. I’m honestly shocked it took this long for a lazer like this. They’ve had pocket sized lazers that will burn through paper, wood, etc. on the civilian market for quite a while now. Plasma is where it’s going to be at! There is only the current problem of a plasma weapon would burn everything around it plus the target. They theorized lightsabers powered by plasma, the conclusion was the user and pretty well everything within a few feet would be heated to several thousand degrees. Dang it :/

    • Don’t worry, we’re a pretty clever species, humanity will find a way to make lightsabers possible.

      • Although it would be almost useless as a modern weapon when compared to any ballistic weapon on the battlefield I can see a lightsaber being almost the greatest multi tool ever.

  14. Mounted from a satalite, using solar big solar collectors for power, as an anti aircraft and anti ballistic weapon. Fat little Kim Jung will be bumming out.

    • And the Chinese will take it out in an hour.

      Hunter-killer satellites are reality. The Chinese demo’d one on an old satellite a few years back and the result was hundreds of new pieces of orbital debris….

  15. I can guarantee as soon as someone develops a practical man portable laser weapon it will be banned for civilians before it’s put on sale. Even though it doesn’t fit the definition of firearm, they will ban it. We will not be allowed to even look at one, unless it’s in the hands of your local SWAT team, and from the wrong end.

  16. Throwing up steam or smoke would be a laughably ineffective countermeasure to this weapon. Dont tell the derka-derkas, but if it can go through steel and aluminum it can make its way through some water vapor without trying.
    The Spartan laser just got a little closer, gents.

    • Sigh.

      Go google “thermal blooming”, “aerosol ablation” and “turbulent scattering.”

      Or just go back to watching bad science fiction movies to “learn” something.

        • Consider the source … The Daily Mail is generally not known for its scientific accuracy. And this is a PR piece, not a journal article.

          You’ll also note the article’s references to testing in the New Mexico desert. Last time I looked around, there’s not often much fog or mist.

          Finally, this is rather old news … the THEL (tactical high-energy laser) system was acknowledged in print as far back as 2003, if not earlier; that’s just the first reference in JDE I found. So you might ask yourself why it hasn’t seen deployment in the past decade or so if it works so well … Lord knows we have troops in enough places where you worry about mortars, etc.

      • Truth is hard, especially when people really want to believe BS that they get from Contractor press releases and propaganda pieces. This is what happens when we have lousy basic science education, people don’t understand the nature of light and how easy it is to reflect and/or diffuse it – let alone the more complex things such as blooming.

  17. What I want to know is, how soon until someone can say “set phasers to stun” without sounding like a geek?

    Seriously though, am I the only one that want to see video of the test? The death of a Ford alone is worth the watch.

  18. Also this test was conducted on probably the most common vehicle in America (the parts of America that matter anyway), a Ford F-series truck. The truck was tilted forward as if the laser was fired from an aerial platform…… tinfoil hats will not save us, we need to upgrade.

  19. Lasers probably would constitute a destructive device if they can get them portable enough for use in handheld weapons because a laser doesn’t work like in the movies where you get a “laser bolt.” Rather, a laser is just a high-powered flashlight. So you turn it on and it’s a flashlight that can destroy things.

  20. I would keepan eye open for stories about disappearing satellites. Followed by ballistic missile test failures increasing.

  21. I would think, as far as small arms go, coil guns might come first (I have dreamt of inventing a practical one, keeping it secret until we can flood the market so that it will become common before they can ban it…)

  22. Hopefully soon we can walk into a gun store and say “a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range” Yes!!!!!

        • Kind of tying into your 1 MJ discussion above…

          It depends on how that 40W is focused, for how long it’s striking you, how it’s conducted away from the point of “impact”, etc..

          Above, I was thinking that a megajoule sure doesn’t seem like much energy. Yes, it’s half a stick of dynamite, but it’s also an Easy Bake Oven running for 3 hours, a 1500W hair dryer running for 11 minutes, or standing out in the sunlight for an hour on a summer day. Then again, it’s also a 100kW laser fired for 10 seconds.

          What if we focus that 40W a bit?

          Let’s say you live in a place where total solar radiation hitting a square meter of the ground is 500W. Let’s say that if a magnifying glass focuses that sunlight onto a surface, then 50% of the sunlight is focused and converted to “heat” when absorbed by the target. So, to deliver a mere 40W of focused “heat”, we’d need a magnifying glass with an area of 0.16 m^2, or roughly 18 inches in diameter.

          I know how quickly a 2″ magnifying glass will burn my skin. I sure wouldn’t want to be the target of an 18″ lens that’s delivering 81 times the energy to the same area in the same amount of time – even though it’s only 40W of power.

          I think a device that could focus 40 watts onto a 1 mm^2 area at 50 meters might be interesting. At the very least, it would be fun to play with.

  23. Well if we’ve learned anything from Star Wars it’s that they still can’t hit shit. Also over penetration.

  24. Aircraft are now useless. ZTF weaponry obsoletes them. In a few years every nation will have this.

  25. What the hell is a “30 kelvin-watt” laser?

    TTAG – if you want to use symbols for “kilowatt”, use a lower-case ‘k’. That is, “30kW”.

    And, no, I’m not being pedantic. The symbols mean things. There’s a big difference (a factor of a billion) between “1mA” and “1MA”.

  26. Want to stop internal combustion engine, tilt it so the oil pick up tube is not able to pick up the oil returning back to the oil pan. If the sump was at the rear of the engine, most likely seized up due to lack of oil pressure. Notice they don’t show any pics of the engine. Way back Campbell’s used marbles in the bottom of the bowl to hold up the chunky part of the soup, leading the consumer to believe there was more solids in the soup than liquid. A bit of false advertisement. For a few billizion more dollars General we will be able to take out a fleet of redneck F-150’s when you have to disarm America, it will be our honor to be part of that program, make the check out to (____________________) your favorite defense contractor.

    I have no clue where the sump is on a F 150, I own a Dodge pickup and yes I know it was assembled in Mexico, found out after I purchased it.

    But if I was going to set this “test/demonstration” up use a truck with a rear sump, figure out how long it will take my super wam-o-dyme laser to burn though the hood and burn a hole into the intake manifold, which would allow unmetered air into the intake, causing the computer to loose it’s mind, if it’s a MAF setup the engine will go lean and stall, MAP system will cause the engine to think it’s at WOT and toss a rod. Just to be sure figure out how long with the right amount of oil is needed with the truck tilted up like that to run just long enough for the laser burn a hole in the intake and make it look like the laser not the lack of oil caused it to stop.

    Notice the hole starts closer to the windshield and moved forward. Was the truck backing away from the laser? Maybe cutting a wire harness on the firewall? The tricks I could figure out for billizions of dollar of in the name of defense “research”. Seems like something you would see on TV on a cable channel after midnight.

    Lasers are already regulated, FAA has no sense of humor about aircraft being lased on final approach at night.

    • Agreed, it was as “optimized” and just-this-side-of-a-complete-lie as almost every weapons system test, ever.

      “Hey Habib! The hood is catching fire and the Americans have lasers! Move the truck!”

      Start it up and drive off in far less time that it takes to wreak such “havoc”. Neat toy for fixed targets like aircraft on the ground, of course you have to get an 8×8 within a couple miles on direct visual. And once the first plane blows, somebody will whip out a cell phone and see your laser beam as a visible line to your position. Good luck!

  27. But in the wrongs hands, the devastation could be unimaginable.

    You mean like the hands of US politicians and the soldiers who carry out their every command?

    • Have a bit more faith in our men and women in uniform to know the difference between right and wrong. Now for politicians and defense contractor companies, don’t have the least bit, it’s all the dollar with both groups.

      • Do some research, in the past century, US troops have fired on unarmed American citizens (on US soil) around half a dozen times. Your faith is misplaced, because their undying loyalty is to the politicians.

        • I dare say that in the last 100 years the mindset of the military has changed drastically. Over the last 8 years things have changed. 100 years ago it could take months to get a message if they were deployed, now seconds if they have internet access. 100 years ago I dare say they were not as wise about about world events as most are serving today.

          I will say I am a bit biased having worn the uniform and didn’t serve blindly, understood Posse Comitatus Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. If an order is illegal under the UMCJ the military member has a right to refuse to carry it out. So I trust the morals of most that wear the uniform.

          I could be wrong, but last time I know of was Kent State, 4 May 1970. Ohio National Guard. 45 years ago, but National Guard does not fall under the Posse Comitatus act. I would be interested in other events that I do not know about.

          Like others have pointed out, for a laser to do damage it requires a lot of power. Back in the 50’s it was predicted we would have nuclear powered cars and flying ones too. Now we just have unguided missiles when the driver looks to read their OMG important text or update their Facebook status. That is what scares me more than laser used to destroy a F-150 on jack stands.

  28. We have always had advanced weapons but since wwII we have never used any of our weapons…..we would rather loose troops as long as they were other peoples sons and daughters.

  29. Build me one for lighting the grill when there’s only a minute till the meat is ready to go on.

  30. Sigh.

    The countermeasures for this are so simple… Reflect and insulate.

    Also, don’t jack up the back of your truck to give the laser a straight shot into your engine.

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