Saturday, April 13, 2013

The death ray

Since the laser was invented, and more importantly, since I saw a demonstration in 1964 (okay, it was fictional, in Goldfinger) I've wondered when the U.S. would finally unveil its secret death ray.

U.S. Navy LaWS video:

Inventor Nikola Tesla claimed to have built and demonstrated such a device. See an article about it here.. There have been a lot of claims made for Tesla’s genius, and some of his inventions — if they weren’t just figments of his imagination and the imaginations of a couple of generations of conspiracy theorists and people who believe science fiction is real — would have been decades, maybe centuries, beyond his time. We’ll never know for certain. He died in 1943.

Briton Harry Grindell Matthews claimed to have invented a death ray, but was never able to demonstrate it. The story is told in this 2003 issue of my favorite magazine, Fortean Times, and the article is available online here.

So is this U.S. Navy LaWS system the so-called “death ray” of lore, or is it just a propaganda device to scare U.S. enemies? Even with its potential as a weapon there are drawbacks to the system. Even the Navy admits LaWS doesn’t work very well in bad weather (beam is diffused), and so some of what the laser could do might be limited to its ability to track incoming missiles, or heat up an enemy vehicle to make it a target for a heat-seeking missile. Well, that’s not too bad. It can also dazzle pilots (ask pilots who have had small lasers beamed by vandals into the cockpit during landings how that has already worked). According to claims it can also blind out the optics in satellites, which would be handy until an enemy did it to us in turn. Man, don’t be messin’ with my TV, Internet or cell phone reception!

I think the timing of the announcement of the LaWS at the time of more North Korean saber-rattling may be meant for dictator Kim Jong Un. It can be a not-so-subtle message: “Hey, ‘Un,’ no matter what you do, no matter what you intend to do, the U.S. is far, far ahead of you techologically. Nuclear devices are so 1940s and '50s. This laser weapon, this is now, and you’re way behind us. Give up the belligerent talk and bellicose bluster and work to help your people in the traditional ways of diplomacy and making friends rather than isolation and weapons building. Do as we say, not as we do, as we say in America.”

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