Tech & Science

Laser Weapon Being Developed By Military Can Send Voice Commands and Burn People Over Long Distances

The Department of Defense (DoD), in collaboration with several universities and small companies, are developing a non-lethal laser weapon which can send voice commands or burn people’s skin to repel targets over long distances.

Known as the Scalable Compact Ultra-short Pulse Laser Systems (SCUPLS), the technology could be employed on small tactical vehicles and other platforms to be used in situations such as crowd control, according to David Law, chief scientist from the DoD’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

The system involves two laser systems, one of which shoots incredibly short pulses of focused infrared light lasting one quadrillionth of a second. This laser fires a series of pulses to rip electrons from the air, creating an invisible and inert ball of plasma—a fourth state of matter made up of ionized gas—near or on the target.

Then, the second detonator laser shoots slightly longer pulses of infrared light towards the plasma ball, creating a series of flash-bangs with three different effects.

At the lowest intensity, the detonation will produce a simple voice command to communicate a warning—such as “Halt! Go no further!”—at distances of up to around 330 feet.

At higher intensities the weapon will be capable of producing a visual and audible alarm tone which could temporarily dazzle and deafen targets. In addition, the laser will be able to produce localized heating of the skin to inflict pain on the victim.

“The capability’s flashbang effects will warn human targets—on vehicles or vessels or on foot—not to approach,” Law told Newsweek. “Research is intended to yield a capability that can generate approximately ten detonations per second.”

“If the threatening target continues to approach a military position, then the warfighter can escalate the force and place the plasma on the target to create non-lethal repel effects,” he said. “The ability to deliver intelligible voice commands (in the target’s specific language) at very long ranges also provides a long-range hail and warn capability with minimal force.”

In order to ensure that the weapon will not cause permanent damage to the target, Law, says that the lasers and optics must be agile enough to control the effects, so the user knows exactly what power is being delivered

“Exhaustive human studies are being performed until we fully understand the risk characterization of each of SCUPLS’ effects and the associated risk of significant injury,” he said.

“The final system design will undergo rigorous evaluation by a Laser Safety Review Board (LSRB) to certify the system will perform as predicted without causing undue harm, such as any eye or skin injury,” he added. “The LSRB is the DoD’s clearinghouse to ensure lasers do not exceed safety thresholds or interfere with radios and other equipment.”

At present, the weapon system is still in its early stages and a new generation of ultra-short pulse lasers will have to be developed before it can be viably produced.

SCUPLS is not the only new laser weapon system being developed by the DoD. For example, several systems involving 100 KW lasers which have much longer pulse lengths (microseconds or longer) are in the works.

These will be capable of “burning” through various materials in seconds, causing much more physical damage to the target. Ultra-short pulse lasers operate with much shorter pulse lengths and do much less damage as a result.

However, because the laser pulses are so short, their average power consumption is much lower, thus they can be powered by smaller and lighter power systems, such as small generators and/or batteries

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