Half a century of laser weapon development
DARPA launched the Pentagon’s first laser weapon program in early 1959, when it issued a million-dollar contract to TRG Inc. to try to build a laser based on Gordon Gould’s patent application. Ever since, the military has been trying to scale lasers to weapon-level powers. In the early 1960s, they tried to scale laser rods into laser logs, only to run into thermal problems. As that program wound down, AVCO Everett Research Laboratory developed the gas-dynamic CO2 laser, the first laser to produce tens of kilowatts CW. Chemical lasers followed, and MIRACL reached 2 megawatts CW, for a few seconds at a time, by the early 1980s. “Star Wars” produced the Alpha chemical laser, which also reached multi megawatt powers, and was supposed to be scalable to an orbiting laser battle station. The Airborne Laser followed, and for a while it looked like it really would really work. Now a dark horse, the fiber laser, has been shooting down targets at relatively short ranges in the Persian Gulf. This talk will cover the long road to this promising success, why it looks like it might work, and what its limits are.
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