The U.S. Army wants a deadlier laser weapon that won’t just burn a target but rather slice it up. Instead of low-power continuous wave lasers that emit a steady stream of energy, the Army wants pulsed lasers that shoot intermittent, but intense, bursts that can quickly destroy a target. Pulsed lasers are already used commercially for precision cutting and etching.
How big a difference will this make? Consider this: the Army plans to mount 50-kilowatt continuous wave laser weapons on Stryker armored vehicles by 2023. A kilowatt is 1,000 watts. The Army now wants to develop tactical ultrashort pulsed lasers with minimum peak power of 1 terawatt and a maximum of 5 terawatts. A terawatt is a trillion watts.
“Current high energy laser (HEL) weapon systems primarily consist of continuous wave (CW) laser sources with output powers in the kilowatts,” explains the Army research proposal. “These kilowatt-class CW laser systems predominantly engage targets via absorption of light, either causing the target to burn and melt or overwhelming optical sensors with high intensities.”