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Sci-Tech

Rejoice -- a laser disables a truck from a mile away

Technically Incorrect: In another small step toward being able to eliminate things "Star Wars" style, Lockheed lauds the success of its own 30-kilowatt fiber laser weapon system.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


truck78.jpg
Now isn't that a beautiful thing? Lockheed Martin

A confession: There are a couple of people, not currently within arms' reach, whom I would like to stop in their tracks. As it were.

So every time I hear of a military tool that's able to halt objects or beings from a considerable distance and make me feel like I'm on the set of "Star Wars," my hopes perk up like the head of a battery-powered toy dog.

The latest to crow about its success is Lockheed Martin. The company's 30-kilowatt fiber laser weapon system has just espied a stationary truck out there on the horizon and said to itself: "We need one less white truck around here."

So it fired with such accuracy that it disabled the truck's engine without actually destroying the whole truck.

In its press release sent earlier this week, Lockheed could barely contain its glee: "Known as ATHENA, for Advanced Test High Energy Asset, the ground-based prototype system burned through the engine manifold in a matter of seconds from more than a mile away."

Indeed, using something called spectral beam combining, ATHENA offers "greater efficiency and lethality than multiple individual 10-kilowatt lasers used in other systems." Three 10KW fiber lasers came together to create the 30KW beam.

We all strive for greater efficiency and lethality in our lives. That is the one sure road to happiness. However, this test wasn't necessarily fair, given that the truck was a sitting duck, mounted on a test platform.

The laser as a means of destruction, elimination and mere disablement has been experimented with for some time. In 2008, Boeing boasted of the pinpoint accuracy of its Advanced Tactical Laser. In 2009, the ATL hit a moving, rather than stationary, target.

Boeing has also developed several other laser weapons, such as its High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator.

Though the prospect of being able to strike with great speed, and entirely undetected, is exciting, the reality is that progress in laser weapons technology isn't exactly fast.

Yes, it is said that lasers are the weapons of the future, but that's because they never seem to be entirely realized in the present.

Still, a truck's engine got burned out by a laser from a mile away. And that's why we go to the movies in the summer.