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German laser weapon cuts steel at 1km

When H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, he helped the world envision a future where enemies would cut Earth's forces apart with powerful heat-rays.

Now Germany’s Rheinmetall Defense has successfully tested something very real and very effective.

KitGuru balances its wonder of all things science fiction with the idea that Germans can cut open tanks with a gun.

Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation doesn't sound anywhere near as sexy as laser, but it does give you an idea of what exactly happened when a flash of optical energy in a coil manages to elicit a highly coherent beam of light from a cylindrical ruby crystal.

While Gordon Gould and Charles Townes, separately, went to war in the late 1950s in order to prove that they had invented the laser (and wanted a piece of paper from the Patent Office to say just that), Theodore H. Maiman of Hughes Research just got on with the job in hand and, on 16th May 1960, fired the world's first laser beam.

While military money poured into the research, most of the practical applications, so far, have been benign – laser eye surgery, presentation pointers and the delivery of Dire Straits' Brother in Arms album on a CD come to mind.

But, in the background, the search for military uses never stopped.

Initially designed to counter drone attacks (which will please the Americans), the German scientists who have successfully delivered the 50Kw HEL (High Energy Laser) know that it will already slice through 15mm of solid steel – at ranges of up to 1km.

Those among you who are also battle tank buffs, will note that 15mm penetration would not be enough to stop something like an Abrams M1, which – at a shade under $7 million a unit – comes with at least 350mm of defensive armour plate.

But HEL, this is just the start.

Alongside a power upgrade to 60Kw before the end of the year, it is also being paired with a 35mm rotary cannon – creating some interesting ‘KFC Combo' possibilities for armour-piercing.

Are you thinking what we're thinking?

The UK, USA and other countries already have advanced projects that lead to unmanned or ‘robotic' killing machines. 2013 will see the first flight of Britain's un-manned combat air vehicle (Taranis) with stealth capabilities. Weighing in at nearly 8 tons, there's no reason why it could not carry one or more of these laser/cannon combos – creating havoc amongst foreign ground forces – without the need to risk a single human life.

The Germans are working on intercepting missiles at present – and have already had success with brick-sized objects moving at around 50 metres a second (around 100mph). Expect many more applications to follow.

Strangely, the HEL laser on the left and 8 ton un-manned killing machine on the right are already real. You would need to ask the CIA about the product in the middle. One thing's for sure, tomorrow's wars will be very different indeed.


KitGuru says: You will be overjoyed to know that a laser-carrying Taranis plane will have intercontinental range and will be able to fulfil mission objectives without the need for human intervention. Let's not mess around eh. Let's just call it a T-100 and see where that gets us in 100 years.

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