Chinese military scientists have reported a research breakthrough that could make it possible for Beijing to develop high-energy laser weapons that can shoot for as long as their operators desire, without interruption and without any degradation in performance.
Scientists at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, China, published the results of their research earlier this month in Acta Optica Sinica, a peer-reviewed Chinese journal. They claim to have developed a new cooling system that makes it possible to operate high-energy lasers “indefinitely,” without any effects from overheating.
“This is a huge breakthrough in improving the performance of high-energy laser systems,” the team said in its research paper. “High-quality beams can be produced not only in the first second, but also maintained indefinitely.”
The cooling system controls gas flows to remove heat from inside a laser weapon, preventing vibration and disruptions in performance. It can enable longer operation, increased range and greater firepower, the scientists said. They noted that 60 years on from the invention of the first ruby laser, weapons developers haven’t been able to create “death rays that can instantly kill targets.”
Some of the most high-profile US laser weapons projects have been canceled, despite shooting down targets in testing. “The true reason for the cancellation of these projects was that their destructive power did not meet expectations,” the Chinese scientists said. Longer, continuous operation times are needed to extend the range of laser weapons beyond a few kilometers, they said.
Such weapons generate high-energy beams that heat up the gas in their path as they pass through the air, creating turbulence. This effect can distort the beam, diminishing its accuracy and strength. The heated gases can also contaminate the mirrors in a laser weapon, reducing performance and potentially damaging a system.
The Chinese researchers said they developed a system that blows gas through the weapon to remove waste heat and keep the mirrors clear. Their technology is already being used in a number of laser weapons that the Chinese military has under development.
Beijing reportedly intends to use such weapons against drones, missiles and aircraft. They also could be used to target satellites, disrupting enemy communications, navigation and surveillance capabilities.
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