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The Military Idle Technology

Army Creates a Directed Lightning Bolt Weapon 214

Posted by samzenpus
from the save-for-half-damage dept.
Sparticus789 writes "Army researchers at Picatinny Labs in New Jersey have developed a prototype weapon which uses a directed lightning bolt to destroy vehicles and unexploded ordinance. The weapon works on the premise that 'A target, an enemy vehicle or even some types of unexploded ordnance, would be a better conductor than the ground it sits on.' Are we one step closer to C&C:Red Alert Tesla coils?"
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Army Creates a Directed Lightning Bolt Weapon

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:39AM (#40475651)

    Does NOT work. the car would not be affected enough by that.

    • by spokenoise (2140056) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:48AM (#40475693)
      This is my dream device. I have sat on my bike, in my car and had someone do something so stupid. Now I can fry the snot outa something and nothing left to say it was me!
    • by Culture20 (968837)
      It's a crowd-taser...
    • You sort of buried the lead there. It also "does NOT work" in that it's not a targeted lightning bolt. It will hit whatever conducts the most electricity, so yeah, not cars in most cases and if it did, it wouldn't do much. But also, if you want to hit something that doesn't conduct more electricity than the thing next to it, you can't. That's not "directed," that's physics.

      Directed lighting would project a slight ionic or otherwise charged particle trail towards a target that lightning would travel dow
    • by Medievalist (16032) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @10:46AM (#40478551)

      Does NOT work. the car would not be affected enough by that.

      One of my cow-orkers had his car struck by lightning while he was crossing the railroad tracks on US Rt 9 by Old New Castle. This happened in front of multiple witnesses in the middle of a slightly overcast day with light rain on and off, but the car was reasonably dry at the time. The entire car was enveloped by a blue corona and the driver said the light and noise inside the car was terrifying.

      But nobody was harmed and the engine didn't even stop. The metal shell of the car completely protected it. It's unclear what would have happened if the radio had been on, but I'd expect a blown accessory fuse.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        What kind of car? An old one with a mechanical carburetor, or one with a modern computer-controlled fuel-injected engine?
  • Resonant fields (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hoboroadie (1726896) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:40AM (#40475657)

    This is what I got into science for.

    • by qu33ksilver (2567983) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:45AM (#40475979)
      So do we need Mjolnir for this ?
    • by MattskEE (925706)

      Resonance isn't necessarily involved and certainly isn't required. Given that they will want a brief but high energy electrical pulse they much more likely are using a Marx Generator than any type of resonant transformer (e.g. Tesla Coil). This is supported by the fact that Marx Generators are one of Applied Energetics specialties. Otherwise it may simply be a single pulse cap possible with PFN or pulse transformer.

  • it's "Ordnance" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:41AM (#40475659)

    Ordinance = A piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority; An authoritative order; a decree.
    Ordnance = Military weapons, ammunition, and equipment used with them.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:07AM (#40475785)

      Who says they're not going to destroy some legislation with this puppy?

    • Re:it's "Ordnance" (Score:4, Informative)

      by SirAdelaide (1432553) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @04:22AM (#40476365)
      According to the internet, ordnance is "Origin: 1620–30; syncopated variant of ordinance". So ordnance is just a very old spelling mistake. The original is ordinance. Which suits both congress and war for the same reason; in both settings ordinance is used for shooting your enemy.
      • Re:it's "Ordnance" (Score:5, Insightful)

        by geogob (569250) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @08:20AM (#40477227)

        It may be so, but in 2012 ordinance and ordnance have distinct definition and you should use one in the context of the other. This distinction is in use since the 15th century and has been accepted in every English dictionaries I know. But it is absolutely correct that some ordinance may cause more harm than some ordnance.

      • Merriam-Webster indicates that while they both share the same Middle English root word of "ordinaunce" (which came from the Anglo-French word "ordenance" that carried a meaning one could apply to both "ordnance" and "ordinance"), the one was not derived from the other. It also dates the first known uses for both of the words to the 14th century, which predates your citation by a few hundred years. Your claims of a spelling error seem spurious, and even if they are not, it's pointless to "correct" a spelling

    • even some types of unexploded ordnance

      There is ordnance, and there is exploding ordnance. There is no such thing as exploded ordnance. I wonder if the bits of complex aggregated supernova that wrote the summary looks up at the night sky and ponders the twinkling unexploded nova and the stunning unexploded supernova until the extremely undissipated gas cloud rises.

      • Re:it's "Ordnance" (Score:4, Interesting)

        by geogob (569250) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @08:29AM (#40477281)

        They may be no exploded ordnance as once it exploded, it's not ordnance anymore.
        Unexploded ordnance refers to ordnance that was used, supposed to explode, but did not and often still poses a risk of exploding. At this point it generally cannot be reused.

        Disposing of unexploded ordnance is quite delicate. I see it almost monthly as they find bombs or shells from WW2 on many constructions sites. In cities, the usual process is to remove the triggering mechanism, transport the unexploded ordnance to a save location and destroy it.

        In remote location, for example in mine fields, the ordnance is usually destroyed on site. With a controlled lightning bolt-like discharge, you may even be able to destroy the ordnance without having found its exact location. This would significantly accelerate mine removal process and make it much safer.

        • by Rei (128717)

          Not only that, but it should be quite effective. The whole point of a blasting cap is to deliver enough energy in a single brief burst (aka, a lot more than the proportionally weak electric charge that ignites it). Wouldn't be surprised if a strong bolt of lightning like this could pack a punch similar to a blasting cap. Or at least set off an existing cap!

          I actually conceived of this idea several years back, of laser-guided lightning bolts. I did some research and found that the idea was already being

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Military speak. As others have said, it's ordnance that failed to go boom. Destruction of said unexploded ordnance is one of the things anti-material rifles and EOD bots are used for. "Explosive ordnance" is actually a thing, too - ordance that is intended to explode on use (vs something like a bullet)

      • Actually it's military jargon for ordnance that's failed to go off as intended. It should have exploded, but it didn't. The abbreviation is UXO. Like most jargon, and language in general, literal correctness is less important than preciseness, and unexploded ordnance has a very specific definition.

    • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:08AM (#40477551) Journal

      ordinance = has the potential to cause untold mayhem, destruction and loss of life
      ordnance = just an explosive ammunition

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:46AM (#40475687)

    What a terrible fucking summary. Also, this has been all over the web for nearly a week.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolaser

    It works by ionizing the air with a UV laser to create a path of lowered resistance for the arc to follow.

    • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @05:38AM (#40476601)

      What a terrible fucking summary. Also, this has been all over the web for nearly a week.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolaser

      It works by ionizing the air with a UV laser to create a path of lowered resistance for the arc to follow.

      Yes and the headline stinks too, to be in any kind of sync with the usual /. hyperbole it should have been: "Army, inspired by id Soft's DOOM, creates it's own BFG9000!".

  • by triffid_98 (899609) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:49AM (#40475697)
    With all apologies to Nikola and his 'Death Ray', wouldn't the skin effect of ultra high voltage used for these kind of arcs make this totally useless as a weapon? The bits you want to zap are inside the external metal casing. They are not the easiest path to ground, therefore they are not getting any significant juice.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:13AM (#40475809)

      With all apologies to Nikola and his 'Death Ray', wouldn't the skin effect of ultra high voltage used for these kind of arcs make this totally useless as a weapon? The bits you want to zap are inside the external metal casing. They are not the easiest path to ground, therefore they are not getting any significant juice.

      Only at high frequencies is the skin effect a notable factor, though it is present at a minor degree at lower frequencies. The proximity effect is more of a detractor anyway. Besides - actual lightning is pure electrostatic DC anyway, though the high speed of the pulse up/down state carries an AC component due to the changing magnetic field that results.

      So no, the skin effect would not turn any arbitrary casing into an alternate conductor unless HF is used. But if the target is surrounded by a dense gold shield rammed deep into the earth, they are safe from this weapon (though bullets not so much).

      -Raphael, Silicon News [silicon-news.com] author.

      • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @03:32AM (#40476165)
        If it is electrostatic it is not a direct current (hint: static=not moving, current = moving).

        Lightning normally consists of two pulses, one up and one down. The latter usually contains most of the current, but as it is a pulse with a rapidly rising leading edge, the EM field is considerable. The terms "AC" and "DC" do not really apply in this case.

        The significant thing is not so much the frequency spectrum of the pulse, but the actual cross section of the ionised region through which the current is passing. If this is relatively large, the current density is low and a Faraday cage is effective. If it is small, the current density may be so high that the actual resistance of the target becomes important; the heat generated may melt a hole in the target resulting in the penetration of ionised gas into the target and current flowing down it. This explains rare cases where a lightning rod has not sufficiently reduced the potential gradient over a building, and the first strike has blown a hole in one of the conductors and then perhaps jumped into the building and started a fire. (I have seen photos of this effect but not seen them anywhere on the net.)

        The idea of a target surrounded by a "dense gold shield" is just plain silly, by the way. All gold is dense...and a thick gold shield would be impracticably expensive. Copper is fine (higher melting point and greater thermal capacity than aluminum) but reinforced concrete with the rebar internally welded together would be much cheaper, more generally effective, and should easily be able to cope with the very limited power available from any human-built weapon.

        • by trewornan (608722)

          If it is electrostatic it is not a direct current (hint: static=not moving, current = moving).

          Isn't the point that once an electrostatic charge starts to discharge it is then moving - i.e. DC?

          • It said "actual lightning is pure electrostatic DC anyway". It is not. I think on reflection the GGP may have meant "electrostatic discharge", but in any case lightning is not a "direct current" in the usual sense of the word. DC is used to mean a circuit where conventional current flows from a higher to a lower potential (obviously the electrons actually flow from lower to higher potential but that's a whole other can of worms).

            In lightning an initial spike ionises air, and then the next spike of current

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Also for the money spent to develop this weapon, how cheap will be the counter-measures?

          Copper is fine (higher melting point and greater thermal capacity than aluminum) but reinforced concrete with the rebar internally welded together would be much cheaper, more generally effective, and should easily be able to cope with the very limited power available from any human-built weapon.

          What's wrong with a lightning-rod? Use a set of them if needed: mount them in from of the vehicle to be protected so that the distance between the vehicle and a rod is larger than the distance between the rods.

          • by Rei (128717)

            In theory, concerning ordinance, they just need to induce enough current to set off the blasting cap. That's not a very high standard that the weapon has to meet.

          • by jbengt (874751)

            What's wrong with a lightning-rod? . . mount them in from of the vehicle to be protected

            Grounding the lighting rod in a moving vehicle is problematic.

            • Grounding the lighting rod in a moving vehicle is problematic.

              Not really, a lot of vehicles already have a grounding system which is essentially a conductive strip that hangs down at the back of the car. When the car is stationary the strip is close enough to the ground to discharge any static build up on the car body so that you don't get a static shock when you get out of the car. Making a more robust version that is connected to a lightning rod would be fairly trivial.

              Of course it would also be pointless

              • Modern car tires are sufficiently conductive that static buildup is rarely a problem except when conditions are so dry that ground resistance is very high - which would stop the conductive strip from working. (And yes, I have done work in this area, while working in R&D for a company that made antistatic and lightning protection products.)
  • by Circlotron (764156) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:53AM (#40475721)
    I'm wondering who will be first to aim the laser at a storm cloud :-P
  • by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:54AM (#40475725)

    I remember seeing stories about the anti-vehicle/IED lightning gun back in 2007, maybe earlier. Every single time it comes up, it gets shot down as being utterly impractical. It can't stop vehicles reliably enough to warrant use in a life-or-death situation, and it's a laughably inefficient means of IED detonation (they need to be within arms reach of the bomb to do anything).

    And yet the story keeps coming back. I suspect some congressmen just feel that, like the laser plane, this weapon is too cool to give up on.

    • by a_hanso (1891616) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:20AM (#40475855) Journal
      Faraday cage. Check mate.
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:22AM (#40475865)

      And yet the story keeps coming back.

      Yes, it comes back every time the research project funding comes up for renewal.

    • by Roachie (2180772)

      I,as well, seem to recall a reference to a "wireless taser" that uses laser ionized atmosphere to direct a charge. I want to think that it was circa 1990s-sometime.

      Now it appears to be a confirmed concept. I wonder what is waiting in the wings?

      • by ThePeices (635180)

        "I wonder what is waiting in the wings?"

        Av-gas?

        • by gtall (79522)

          So you are saying our secret weapons will be based on Boston baked beans? Isn't that against the Geneva Convention?

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      I've often wondered why they dont use a 2.4ghz band dual chamber resonant klystron for use as a vehicle killer.

      While the vehicle *IS* a conductor, it is not a perfectly effective Faraday cage, as evidenced by morons talking on cellphones, and stealing wifi while wardriving.

      A really high energy microwave beam from a mobile klystron is way more energy efficient, easier to cool, and would be radically more effective at killing the onboard electronics in a modern vehicle. It would also be more effective at kill

      • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @03:45AM (#40476217)
        They are suitable for modulation (as in broadcast) but for straight microwaves a magnetron is your generator of choice. It really is so simple that when the first magnetron was taken from the UK to the US as part of WW2 technology exchange, the reaction of the American engineers was "It's just a diode and a magnet! Why didn't we think of that?" Apocryphally one engineer remarked "It's just an electronic dog whistle", to which another replied "Explain a dog whistle". However...

        Years ago a few of us playing with a 500W magnetron did manage to light a small bulb connected to a dipole a few meters away, and deflect the needle of an Avometer with a loop aerial at about 10M. But focussing is a pig, and your claims of knocking out wifi over a mile away with a poxy little 200W is nonsense. There is this thing called the inverse square law. You would be better off with a maser, but even so to do any damage you would need to keep the beam in the same place for quite some time, and with two moving vehicles this will be difficult. Vehicle electronics are rather well protected nowadays, and there are few points you could hit where the beam would transmit significant energy into the ECU. The ECU connections are protected with transient suppressors, and can normally withstand 28V for a while.

        You'd do much better with a high intensity cobalt-60 pulse source, but again getting the range without either killing yourself with radiation or having to transport the ass end of a nuclear sub around with you might prove difficult.

      • You'd need a decent antenna to do so. 50 DB would help to keep your PSU portable and yourself not affected. And way more power than a measily 200 W. Think 20KW, although each 6 dB your antenna is better will halve the power requirement. A better antenna does mean you have to aim better at a target you may not exactly know where it is. With reflections and all the "hot spot" may not be directly at the part you want to fry.
        Firstly: not all signals will be absorbed by your target, some will miss. In a microwa
    • And yet the story keeps coming back. I suspect some congressmen just feel that, like the laser plane, this weapon is too cool to give up on.

      I wonder what you'd have said about heavier-than-air flight in 1890. Or rocketry in 1938. Or... just about any technological advance.

  • There has long been a prototype of a taser which uses lasers to ionize a path. This from the same guys?

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:52AM (#40476007) Homepage

    This is from Applied Energetics. [appliedenergetics.com] It's not yet clear if it's militarily useful. Range is going to be a problem. It has potential as "something to shoot at a potential IED that causes less damage than an IED".

    Unless it becomes a more generally useful weapon, though, it will probably suffer the fate of most overspecialized weapons.

  • by gijoel (628142)
    or it didn't happen.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @03:24AM (#40476133) Journal

    I don't know how practical a weapon this would be in a military engagement (like with other guys shooting back at you) but in a situation where you needed to scare the bejeezes out of some people (like a riot or maybe a hostage situation) I can definitely see it being useful.

    I mean most weapons (flamethrowers excepted) are pretty hard to see (not hear). You can see the flash of muzzles and maybe the pitting of concrete from near misses but other than getting hit you wouldn't know how close they were to you.

    THIS on the other hand would be a terrifying weapon. Like a thunderbolt thrown at you, the flash would probably blind you for a few seconds and the clap of thunder make you deaf. People would just start running unless they dropped dead due to a heart attack! Think of it as god's version of a taser.

    It reminds me of that lightning weapon used in "District 9". Don't know if it's powerful enough to make people literally explode.

    • THIS on the other hand would be a terrifying weapon.

      "He has loosed the fateful lightning,
      Of His terrible swift sword..."
    • by Daetrin (576516)

      It reminds me of that lightning weapon used in "District 9". Don't know if it's powerful enough to make people literally explode.

      Or the staff weapons from Stargate SG-1:

      O'Neill: This [holds up a staff weapon] is a weapon of terror. It's made to intimidate the enemy. This [holds up a P-90] is a weapon of war. It's made to kill the enemy.

  • ...was discussed on Slashdot many years ago. The original idea, IIRC, was that they'd shoot a UV beam to actually ionize the air between the shooter and the target - the lighting would then travel down this path as it would be the path of least resistance. I guess either the UV wasn't ionizing enough or they felt the lensing effect would be better.

  • I can't believe everyone missed this fact: now we finally have the Lightning guns to fight Godzilla!
  • religious wars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by harvey the nerd (582806) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @05:41AM (#40476605)
    DoD and Homeland Sec wet dream. Might work better in more backwards areas - Wrath of God, "wrong side" and such for govt enemies.
  • Extra Crispy!!!

    Need a Jump??

  • i mean, it's not like they are playing with fire.

  • You weren't supposed to bring stuff from the real world IN to the Matrix, Neo.....
  • I was hoping I would see something like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4UcGgqam7Y [youtube.com]

  • Perhaps these [youtube.com]guys provided some expert advice to the Army?

  • Has begun work on something called a 'Wave Motion Gun". Details are sketchy at this time, but the plans seem to involve the recycling of a sunken World War Two battleship...
  • The Air Force had a similar weapon in 1978, albeit using what was effectively ball lightning in the plasma channel rather than full arc charges like the Army weapon -- I don't think the arc charges terrifically useful any more than people die in the Farraday cage at Arc Attack concerts at Maker Faires (hint: they don't).

    The air force work was based on work by Pyotr Kapitsa, the Russian Nobel winning physicist. The idea was to create a plasma channel with a laser, drop a ball of lighning into it, and let th

  • ... may Roger Zelazny forgive me. :-)

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