At last month’s Directed Energy to D.C. convention, a defense industry trade show, the U.S. military’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) displayed a video that revealed ongoing research into laser-induced plasma effect, which is a technology that creates and modifies balls of plasma to create noise, light and heat.
The end result is a non-lethal weapon that can create controlled sound and light effects and heat at locations tens of kilometers away. At this point, researchers have not been able to create words, but expect that development in the next three years. However, the laser can currently create human-like sounds and gutturals. The weapon would be ideal for confusing and intimidating enemy combatants.
In an interview with Defense One, David Law, technology division chief for the JNLWD, said, “We’re this close to getting it to speak to us. I need three or four more kilohertz.”
The system behind this ghostly technology consists of two lasers. A femtosecond laser ejects focused light for 10-15 seconds, which separates electrons from air molecules to create plasma. At the same time a nanolaser modifies the plasma via the Kerr effect. The weapon’s range is dependent on the size of the mirrors, with 8 in. mirrors delivering a five-kilometer range. Additionally, the weapon will not affect individuals between the system and its intended target.
The system is more flexible than just creating voices as well, as demonstrations depict the weapon’s ability to apply concentrated temperature and light on materials, even causing burning in a fabric uniform.
A laser-induced plasma effect weapon is still under development, but it is a promising non-lethal deterrent. There is a chance that the system could be deployed domestically by law enforcement and border control organizations, as the JNLWD is made up of stakeholders from the military as well as agencies from the U.S. departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security. As the JNLWD is a research program, there are competing technologies also under development. One of those is the distributed light and sound array system, which is a visible laser system that blinds individuals and also delivers disorienting noise or commands.
Lasers were once considered science fiction. Voice throwing is a ventriloquism trick. These techniques might now team up in next-gen non-lethal weaponry.