US Army Trying To Harness Weapons Grade Lightning

By: Richard Stalker - June 27, 2012

Zeus may have had it right after all. The god of thunder uses lightning to strike his opponents down and now the United States Army is trying to harness the power of lightning for its own purposes. They are experimenting with laser-induced plasma channel that basically uses a laser as a pathway to shoot bolts of plasma down the stream to the target. The laser-guided lightning weapon could precisely hit targets such as enemy tanks or unexploded roadside bombs, because such targets represent better conductors for electricity than the ground.

“We never got tired of the lightning bolts zapping our simulated (targets),” said George Fischer, lead scientist on the project at the U.S. Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. “During the duration of the laser pulse, it can be putting out more power than a large city needs, but the pulse only lasts for two-trillionths of a second.” I bet it is enough to fry an enemy combatant though.

Photo courtesy the US Army.

Using directed energy weapons, while used in this scenario to disable tanks and IEDs, could theoretically be used one day to incapacitate an other human combatant and not just kill them.

Army researchers used an “ultra-short-pulse laser of modest energy” that keeps the laser beam focused through its own intensity. In doing this the laser’s electro-magnetic field can harvest electrons from air molecules to create the plasma pathway for electricity to follow. These laser-induced plasma channels could also be used to shoot direct high-powered microwave pulses. These microwave pulses are already being used by the US Air Force. They put them in missiles and use them to burn out the electronic systems of air defense centers, military jets or drones.

The future is bright for new military technology. This great lightning weapon could potentially join the US Navy’s railgun, and the US Army’s hypersonic weapons. If this weapon does come to the battlefield, look for it to be in 20-30 years. Now if I can only figure out how to shoot lightning out of my fingertips.

Main photo courtesy of Lucas Arts

Richard Stalker

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  • joe

    A lightning laser magnetically-pinched-nuclear-fusion power-generator is described in the Nasa Create The Future Design Engineering Contest entry May 17, 2012 where a lightning laser is used to capture real lightning from the sky which is then used to ignite nuclear fusion reactions! Artificial lightning generated by a tesla coil is sent along ionized channels of air which were ionized by an ultraviolet or other lasers into the clouds and ionosphere to discharge available lightning which then travels down the lightning laser ionized path beam to a magnetically confined fusion generator. The captured real lightning is transformed to higher amperages which are used to magnetically pinch deuterium-tritium creating supersonic shock waves that ignite the fuel while it is confined in a magnetic bottle. Heat generated is used to produce steam for a steam turbine which rotates an electric generator to power the grid.