Weapons of the Future
April 29, 2006
Lasers have become such an important part of our lives -- think CD and DVD players on the safe side and corrective eye surgeries on the dangerous end -- you probably won't be surprised to learn the U.S. military's next generation of weapons may shoot laser beams and heat rays, rather than bombs and bullets.
The Air Force will test its first Airborne Laser, a device housed inside a 747 jumbo jet that's equipped to destroy missiles at the speed of light from across the globe, by year's end.
And, for good measure, a smaller weapon -- the Advanced Tactical Laser -- that could be mounted to a C-130 and even a helicopter is in the works.
As for ground troops and other governmental personnel, don't worry. They won't be totally defenseless. Mounted on top of a military vehicle, the Active Denial System (ADS) emits millimeter waves (somewhat related to microwaves) that cause intense burning sensations intended not to harm people, but to force them into retreat.
In fact, the ADS works much like a virtual force field and less like the hand-held "phaser" you see on Star Trek reruns, says Doug Beason, associate director for threat reduction at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.