There are lots of examples of how futuristic, sci-fi weaponry has made it into our modern-day arsenals, but there’s one iconic technology that we haven’t yet been able to use on the battlefield. That’s now rapidly changing. We’re closer than ever to incorporating laser weapons into our defenses. Just what’s made this technology possible and how soon before it’s ready for real-world military applications?

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A New Type Of Laser Weaponry
Developed by Boeing and now being tested by DARPA, the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, also known as the HEL MD has the capability to shoot down targets with an invisible infrared beam.

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While laser weaponry has been on the U.S.’s defensive weapons agenda since the middle of the last century, prototypes like the HEL MD show that we’re finally making real headway in compact, affordable and powerful lasers for the battlefield.

What Makes It Different?
The primary technology behind the new lasers is the use of optical fibers. This means of laser energy generation is different from that found in high-powered lasers available over the latter decades of the 20th century.

High-powered lasers were seen as valuable defenses in countering nuclear attacks, however they were restrictively massive and powered by a chemical reaction. Fiber lasers, on the other had, covert electricity to laser energy using solid-state diodes. The light created by the diodes is amplified as it’s channeled through a thin optical fiber, where it’s transformed into a small yet powerful laser beam.

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An Asset For Defense
Fiber lasers will be most effective against incoming smaller airborne weapons like drones and mortars, but they can also be used to disable small enemy vehicles and vessels.

While you it wouldn’t be able to take out massive weapons and or anything as a large as a tank or a plane, the fiber laser can serve as a compact, versatile, cost-effective and reliable means of defense against cheaply made and small scale weapons.

Silent, Invisible And Powerful
While there’s usually a very colorful and noisy association with laser weapons seen in science fiction, the fiber laser is silent and invisible. For Star Wars fans that may be a bit of a letdown, but for the military, where stealth is imperative, it’s a lot more favorable than the typical portrayal of lasers in pop culture.

However, fiber lasers are currently better suited as a defensive resource rather than a stealthy, offensive weapon. They’re also best used in clear, fair conditions as clouds, rain and other factors that interfere with visibility hinder their use.

Fiber lasers may not be the be-all-end-all laser weapon that gets military tech junkies up and cheering, but this technology represents a good step forward in smaller scale, autonomous and cost-effective weapons that seem well suited to modern conflicts.

Do you think the HEL MD will deliver significant military advantage or help foster even more powerful laser weapons in the near future? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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