For those of us living in fear of a deadly truck uprising, Maximum Overdrive must have scared someone, we can finally rest easy knowing that Boeing recently used a laser attached to a C130H aircraft to kill a pickup. Melting the hood of the truck was a significant step for the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL), proving it could defeat ground based targets with high precision. The test took place on August 30th at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Military lasers, besides looking really cool for science fiction junkies, also demonstrate that the rapid development of technology could have repercussions in international power politics. Check out the short but sweet video Boeing just released after the break.
While it seems inefficient at this stage, putting a hole in a truck with a laser is just a precursor to a different kind of warfare. We’ve discussed how advancements in robotic weaponry and drones are changing war, and a similar level of change may come from ultra-precise mid to long range weapons. An identified target could be hit from flight without the target being aware of the danger and with little to no collateral damage. Considering the recent record of conventional ordinance, that precision could mean sparing the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
The ATL is a chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) which produces hundreds of kilowatts of destructive power in the infrared. That means you, I, and the truck can’t see what’s hitting it. As impressive as that may be, you’re not going to have lasers in the hands of soldiers anytime soon. They take a lot of energy to run (the ATL reportedly consumes megawatts), are bulky (the ATL weighs 5,000+ kg) and aren’t known for being easy to operate. The ATL has a special beam control system in order to acquire targets and guide the laser to where it should strike.
Integrated Defense Systems, the division of Boeing responsible for the test, is one of the major players in the US weapons development industry with 70,000 employees worldwide. Putting lasers in the sky is just one of their goals, but it’s an important one. A closely related project, the Airborne Laser (ABL) is one of the leading candidates for missile defense during the boost phase. ABL could be, though it is still unproven, a means of defeating missile strikes from developing nuclear powers.
In a critical light, the recent test shows how the US can spend millions of dollars just to disable a truck. I do the same thing unintentionally all the time for free. Still, according to the press release, Boeing is very happy with the ATL. The bottom line, they say, is that it works. As long as progress is being made a useful laser system will eventually be created, and that potential is worth the money.
TechChunks is a Technology Geek, Web Entrepreneur, SEO Consultant and Social Media Evangelist. Prior to starting this blog, TechChunks has spent many productive years as a Software Engineer, Wordpress Blogger, Corporate Trainer, Frequent Conference Speaker and Workshop Leader. Circle TechChunks on Google+!