Huge news for real-life ray guns: Electric lasers have hit battlefield strength for the first time -- paving the way for energy weapons to go to war.In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to get its 105 kilowatts of power out of their laser -- past the "100kW threshold [that] has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for 'weapons grade' power levels for high-energy lasers," Northrop's vice president of directed energy systems, Dan Wildt, said in a statement....The battlefield-strength breakthrough is just one part in a larger military push to finally make laser weapons a reality, after decades of unfulfilled promises. The Army recently gave Boeing a $36 million contract to build a laser-equipped truck. Raytheon is set to start test-firing a mortar-zapper of its own. Darpa is funding a 150 kilowatt laser project that is meant to be fitted onto "tactical aircraft."Hmph. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in lethality via high-velocity iron. Lasers sound cool enough, but furiously pushing to deploy them on the battlefield gives me this "someone watched too much Star Trek" vibe -- like there's a secret cabal of Pentagon geeks out there trying to make the Star Fleet a reality.So the benefits are... what? Ammunition becomes obsolete, logistics simplify. IEDs will be safer to clear and incoming mortars easier to pluck from the skies. And no doubt the nifty -however pricey- airborne laser would be formidable, if it works as advertised.But even Boeing, one of the technology's most vociferous advocates, seems a bit dubious on the awesome factor for battlefield energy weapons, bragging: "...the system also took a step toward demonstrating a counter-unmanned aerial vehicle capability by destroying two small unmanned aerial vehicles that were stationary on the ground."Two parked UAVs eh? Suppose the broad-side of a barn was unavailable for targeting.So color me skeptical. No doubt there's some practical warfighting application here, but when I picture Star Wars-esque blaster fights, I can't help but to picture smirking insurgents holding up their bathrooms mirrors as body armor. Though as a matter of record, I will gladly eat my words if Boeing discovers a way to fix these things to a shark's head.--John Noonan
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