Remember those sci-fi futures where people duked it out using laser guns? We’re getting even closer to that, though you won’t be seeing any colored laser bolts or Han’s blaster anytime soon. Real High Energy Lasers operate on a spectrum that’s invisible to the human eye. Rheinmetall is currently showing off a 50kw prototype designed to protect against artillery shells.
If you’re familiar with defense contractors, Deutschland’s Rheinmetall is far from an unknown name. They built the famed German Eighty-Eight in WWII and their 120mm smoothbore tank gun is so good, the US Army selected it for the M1A1/2 Abrams tank. They also make artillery, naval guns, and medium-caliber cannons. Point blank, they’re as close to an expert on traditional kinetic energy weapons as you can get. Also joining the party is Rhienmetall-owned Oerlikon, a company renowned for its anti-aircraft systems.
Here’s the cool part, while far from ready for field deployment, this baby works. The laser first cut a 15mm steel girder in half at a 1km range. It’s second test was to shoot down several drones at a 2km distance. However, the hardest task for any system is a small, indirect fire shell. This system is being designed to protect soldiers from artillery fire after all. This system was able to engage and destroy a 82mm target moving at fifty meters per second. That’s about halfway between a baseball and a softball in size.
So the big question is this: When will this system see action at the front lines? That’s the wild card. While a successful test, this was only a test. Rheinmetall is planning on a slightly more powerful 60kw version. If there’s a production laser, they’d like to reach 100kw. Then this system needs to be field proofed. The day is not today, but the age of rayguns might be a lot closer than we ever could have thought just a few years ago.