There is a new weapon in development at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey and it’s something that Darth Vader (or Dr. Evil) would be proud to wield. The Laser-Induced Plasma Channel or LIPC is a device that “…will shoot lightning bolts down laser beams to destroy its target.”
The LICP is intended to disable vehicles or any other target that conducts electricity better than the air around them.
The lead scientist on the project, George Fischer, explains:
We use an ultra-short-pulse laser of modest energy to make a laser beam so intense that it focuses on itself in air and stays focused in a filament.
If a laser beam is intense enough, its electro-magnetic field is strong enough to rip electrons off of air molecules, creating plasma. This plasma is located along the path of the laser beam, so we can direct it wherever we want by moving a mirror.
The plasma channel conducts electricity way better than un-ionized air, so if we set up the laser so that the filament comes near a high voltage source, the electrical energy will travel down the filament.
The high voltage source in question might be a vehicle or other target, which would get zapped with lightning basically. This is because a target would conduct electricity better than the air that the charge is travelling through, transferring the current through whatever the target is.
There are still some challenges to be overcome however. Making sure that the laser system doesn’t destroy itself is one, making it usable on a battlefield is another. Getting past power issues is another hurdle but the researchers are optimistic following a good round of testing in January this year.