INDUSTRY BIGS TEAM UP ON RAY GUNS

thel.jpgTwo of the heavyweights of the defense industry are teaming up to develop "a laser armed combat vehicle," Baltimore Business Journal says.Northrop Grumman, which is building the Army's Tactical High Energy Laser, will put together the ray gun. United Defense, maker of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, "will develop a hybrid [gas/electric] combat vehicle that would carry the laser weapon," according to the Journal.There's no contract with the Pentagon, yet, for such a weapon. But the partnership represents the rapid evolution of laser technology, company execs note. The Tactical High Energy Laser has had a number of successful tests, shooting down incoming rockets. The modified 747 Airborne Laser, after a seemingly-endless slumber, is beginning to make progress.More importantly, electric-powered lasers are finally starting to build up the power they need to work as weapons. In a few months, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore national lab and elsewhere plan to test a 25 kilowatt solid-state laser. If those trials work out as expected, the Defense Department will then start handing out grants for a laser with a hundred kilowatts of power -- that's widely-considered the threshold for ray gun action to begin."Operational demonstrations and systems will become reality in the near future," Patrick Caruana, vice president of Space and Missile Defense for Northrop Grumman Space Technology, said in a press release.The vehicle is meant to fight off mortars, drones, and other threats from the air. To prove to the Pentagon that the machine is worth funding, "Northrop Grumman and United Defense are pursuing ground vehicle-based laser system demonstrations that will prove the effectiveness and utility of high-energy lasers against threats and will provide critical packaging and integration activities that will demonstrate the operational usefulness of these systems."THERE'S MORE: One step forward, one step back. The Airborne Laser's first flight test in two years was cut short this week, after some "anomalous instrumentation readings." Space News says a cabin pressure problem was to blame.

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