The United States Army is developing a new laser weapon – the Tactical Ultrashort Pulsed Laser for Army Platforms (UPSL) – that promises to be more powerful than existing weapons by nearly three orders of magnitude.
High-energy laser (HEL) weapon systems currently in use are continuous wave lasers (CW) – firing a continuous beam at a target – but the UPSL will emit short, pulse-like bursts that rely on low energy. It will reach a terawatt for 200 femtoseconds, compared to a maximum of 150 kilowatts for previous systems and fires extremely short pulses – between 20 and 50 each second – for a total rated power of 20 to 50 watts.
“The sheer amount of intensity in a terawatt pulse laser is able to cause a non-linear effect in air resulting in a self-focusing filament,” the brief stated. “These filaments propagate without diffraction, providing a potential solution to the negative impact turbulence has on beam quality when propagating a conventional CW laser system.”
The advantage of ultrashort pulses is their ability to be shaped into self-focused light pulses, keeping their intensity intact. This makes them capable of vaporizing the surface of a target. The impact of a laser pulse on a metallic object could also generate a strong functional electromagnetic pulse (EMP), thus disrupting electronics. The Army states that UPSL systems can neutralize threats with three distinct methods: “Ablation of material from the target, the blinding of sensors through broadband supercontinuum generation in the air, and the generation of a localized electronic interference used to overload a threat’s internal electronics.”
UPSL is expected to be employed as a standalone system or integrated into ground vehicles, ships, and aircraft. The first prototype is scheduled to be unveiled in August 2022.