The riskiest part of bomb disposal may soon be a thing of the past, if the U.S. Army has its way.
According to a report from Wired magazine, the Army's working on a laser within a laser, as it were, that could blow up roadside bombs and explosive-laden vehicles from a distance. If the power's turned way up, it could even kill someone.
First, some background: A side effect of high-energy lasers is that they heat up and ionize the air molecules they pass through.
For a brief moment after the laser beam has stopped firing, a long narrow tube of ionized plasmas hangs in the air — a perfect conductor for any kind of electromagnetic pulse you may want to send through it.
We saw last week how scientists showed these plasma tubes could be used to direct lightning. Researchers at the Army's Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) in Picatinny, N.J. have another idea — super high-energy microwaves.
Microwave weapons already have been tried, but not really used, because the beams scatter so much that there's a high risk of "self kill" to nearby personnel.
Meanwhile, lasers are well understood, but need tremendous amounts of energy to even approach being dangerous.
So the ARDEC crew is combining the best of both worlds — using a laser to create a focused plasma channel microwaves can't escape, then firing microwaves down it. Voila — the Multimode Directed Energy Armament System, as the researchers call it.
An Army internal brochure says that the weapon will "defeats/neutralize full spectrum of materiel threats at stand off" and have "scalable effects from non-lethal to lethal."