You’ve probably seen various plasma weapons in your favorite art of war video games. They fire globs of green light that explode in a burst of energy when they reach their targets. The resulting blast usually kills the opponent with a single shot, reducing his body to airborne pieces or they can even decimate entire rooms full of adversaries with their concussive force. This is what gives them their appeal and makes them one of the most lethal of offensive options. And now the U.S. military has begun working on a plasma gun of its own.
However, this real world plasma cannon is supposed to be much more “enemy-friendly”. The theory is that a super hot (think surface of the sun) blast of energy can be propelled from a barrel and sent through the open air where it can then release more energy somewhere in the distance to create a massive sonic disturbance similar to that of a jet airplane at takeoff. But the catch is, the resulting sound wave is intended to stun the target and cause confusion and retreat, not mass destruction. Yes, it’s a kinder, gentler plasma weapon!
U.S. military envisions hand-held plasma cannons
The phenomenon that makes it all work is called the Laser-Induced Plasma Effect. The laser fires short bursts that are a nanosecond in duration, then, when the directed energy reaches its target, electrons are separated from nuclei creating a blue ball of plasma and a secondary supersonic shockwave.
Conceived by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, this weapon has been earmarked for use in crowd control and security checkpoint enforcement and has also been considered for missile defense.
“We’ve demonstrated it in the lab at very short ranges. But we haven’t been able to demonstrate it at even 100 meters. That’s … the next step,” said David Law, the technology division chief at JNLWP.
So how long will it be before we have weapons that can dematerialize targets a la Star Trek?
Quite some time.
Currently, plasma weapons have a limited decibel range and are too heavy to be carried by individual combatants since they currently need more power than a hand-held device can supply. But if they can find a way to make small, portable fusion reactors to power them, plasma guns may promise to give us a “phasers on stun” option in the not too distant future!