Saturday, October 11, 2008

Plasma Shields, Lasers and Pain Rays, Oh My!

Kevin clued me in to a Wired article with links to all sorts of real-world "sci-fi" weapons. Some of these are still in the theoretical stage, but a surprising number are in the testing / experimental stage, and a few are scheduled to be in service by late 2009 or 2010. Some are cool, others are damnably scary. As freaky as this stuff is, it's also really resonates with my geeky side.
Here's a few of my favorites:

  • The Plasma Acoustic Shield System creates a bright wall of lights and shockwaves. Despite the name, it's not a forcefield yet. It intended use is kinda like a flash-bang grenade, but repeatable, at range (100m) and over a wide area. As a layman, I really can't tell whether or not this is actually a first-step towards forcefields.
  • The Pulsed Impulsive Kill Laser is supposedly less deadly than the name implies. It is designed to take down UAVs. It's also designed to detonate reactive armors. Some tank armor is actually explosive plates that blast out against the incoming force of a projectile, and a laser system can detonate it from afar before a more conventional attack follows up.
  • The army is paying $25,000,000 for 5 "Pain Ray Trucks" to be delivered in a little over a year. These are large trucks with a cargo-container on the bed. Inside the container is The Silent Guardian, a sweeping beam microwave transmitter (250m range) that causes intense burning sensations, but no physical wounds. The official story is that you use it to fire warning shots against unidentified vessels, but it strikes me that this system, or it's Active Denial System descendents, will one day be used domestically to break up riots and torture citizens. After all, it's silent, and doesn't leave a mark (provided you don't get hit twice within 15 seconds), so there's nothing disturbing to show on the news.
  • Speaking of warning unidentified vessels, that's the claimed purpose of the Long Range Acoustic Device. It's basically a super-megaphone. At very long ranges, it's good for warning off approaching vessels, vehicles, or mobs. As the target gets closer to you (or vice versa), the decibel level is high enough to cause ear damage and (this part freaks me out) loss of vision. Far from hypothetical, the NYPD actually has a few hummers with LRADs mounted on top, which they used against protesters at the 2004 RNC.
  • There's a number of other proposed Active Denial Systems (aka microwave weapons) currently under development, everything from pain-causing burglar alarms, prisonwide riot suppression systems, and even rifles. Microwave weapons can shoot through windows without breaking them, and the pain effect can pass through cracks in cement walls to affect targets on the other side. Again, the torture potential is pretty scary, especially for anything man-portable, since it causes excrutiating pain, but no lingering physical symptoms.
  • And then, of course, there's Lasers. I knew there was a reason for E997.0. Military lasers are quite versatile because they can deliver non-lethal/lethal/anti-tank (at 100 kilowatts) levels of damage depending on how long an exposure you apply to the target. They have effective ranges of over a mile, and are extremely accurate. And of course, with that kind of range on a silent weapon, you have a recipe for plausable deniability. The Lawrence Livermore labs is currently working on a Laser "Gatling Gun", with multiple garnets for focusing the light beams. I'm sure it will look wicked, and hopefully end up in some kickass movies.
In the interest of full disclosure (and, more importantly, bragging-by-association), my wife did work at LANL imploding metal cylinders via lasers, and I used to judge Magic tournaments with a Air Force Colonel who worked on a battlefield laser project. Not that that means I have any insiders perspective on any of the above, since my wife's work was on a micro-scale in a lab environment, and I didn't want to make John Shannon uncomfortable with unending questions about his line of work.

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