The time has come! Long anticipated, missile-blasting, hole-frying, zip-zapping laser weapon technology is upon us. Yep, the U.S. Army officially has a 60-kilowatt-class blaster thanks to Robert Afzal, who leads Lockheed Martin's advanced laser systems program, and his team.
"Laser." (Image via giphy)
Straight out of an H.G. Wells novel, the blaster is the most powerful laser weapon on the planet; its targeting dome, laser generator, and power and control hardware are reliable and light-weight enough to be mounted on tactical vehicles. This means the Heat-Ray – I mean blaster – is built for war.
Heat-Ray in action, but you already knew that, you lover of classical literature, you! (Artwork for a 1906 Belgian edition by the Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corréa of the book The War of the Worlds.)
Afzul spent a large part of his career leading the development and integration of lasers into space probes at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center before beginning to work with Lockheed in 2008. Among his many contributions, he notably developed the flight lasers for the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System on the ICESat Mission and designed the laser on Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MESSENGER mission — and, perhaps most importantly, he helped develop the Alexandrite laser for tattoo removal (thank the Gods!).
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Needless to say, it is no surprise that Azful is the man to finally bring all of our science fiction fantasies to life.
The first laser was created in the 1960s by Theodore H. Maiman, a physicist at Hughes Research Laboratories, by using a cylinder of synthetic ruby with silver coated ends and a high power-power flash lamp. Since then, laser technology has made leaps and bounds. We can now scan, print, cut, weld, and illuminate our way through life via laser technology but it wasn't until recently that an actual "Death Ray" style weapon was
disclosed to the public invented.
Thwarted efforts have primarily been due to three itty-bitty details: the need for very large solid-state batteries, impractical assembly dimensions, and light diffusion — beam quality is the difference between bright lights and explosions. #Science.
The difficulty in turning lights into weapons is making sure that the laser's level of horsepower can melt metal at a relevant distance. Even though chemical lasers could do the trick, they call for cumbersome and awkward mixtures. Meanwhile electrically powered solid-state lasers don't have enough power.
At least, they didn't until some telecommunications industry engineers found that fiber-optic cables could enhance the light beam's energy. Expanding on this, Afzal discovered that by grouping numerous fiber-optic lasers, enough energy and beam quality could be created to get the job done – ta-da!
The door to the future of laser technology has been blasted (you know... like with a blaster...) wide open; I'm just glad our Army is the one who owns it!