If you’re thinking of giant lasers, chances are the new "Star Wars" film has just popped into your head – but laser weapons don’t just belong in the realm of fiction. The U.S. Navy has been developing a series of Laser Weapon Systems (LaWS) for several years now, and they are startlingly accurate – they can shoot tin cans off a dingy while leaving the boat intact. Now, China has entered one of its own laser weapons into the fray, first showing it to the world on state television, as reported by Popular Science.
China shows off new Laser Weapon https://t.co/3gTTdeephD
— Cyber Arms (@Cyberarms) November 26, 2015
On November 7, the Chinese government broadcast a demonstration of the new LAG (Low Altitude Guard) II laser weapons system. It was shown to accurately and rapidly superheat and obliterate airborne targets and drones over a military testing site. It’s mounted on a wheeled carriage towed by a separate vehicle; when moved into position, it scans for targets underneath its protective dome using an electro-optical sensor.
China shows most powerful laser weapon yet on TV https://t.co/ZL1YLQs1JK pic.twitter.com/vxOIxGrhaC
— Popular Science (@PopSci) November 27, 2015
After tracking and locking on to multiple targets automatically, the human operator chooses which one to destroy manually; the laser almost instantaneously superheats a small area on the already small target, causing it to break apart in moments. The reel explains that, if wirelessly linked to off-vehicle radar detection systems, the LAG II could potentially shoot down targets moving at a far higher speed, including incoming artillery shells.
This prototype is an upgrade from the LAG I, which was unveiled in 2014 and is available for export. Although the power of the LAG II has not been confirmed, its predecessor possessed a 10 kilowatt beam – 100 times more powerful than the average incandescent light bulb, and at least 10 times more powerful than a high-end microwave. It could take down targets two kilometers (1.2 miles) away within seconds.
These offensive, mounted monsters are known as “directed-energy” weapons, primarily designed to shoot down drones or target specific parts of an encroaching hostile vehicle – such as its engine compartment – in order to disable them without necessarily completely destroying them. Although powerful and certainly effective, the cost of firing each beam is relatively low, meaning that militaries across the world are likely to be using more of them in the near future.