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China builds new laser weapon system that fires ‘indefinitely’

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Published: 16:54 BST, 14 August 2023 | Updated: 21:30 BST, 14 August 2023

Researchers at the National University of Defense Technology in China claim to have overcome the biggest challenge in making laser weapons – overheating.

High-energy laser systems are used to disable unmanned aerial vehicles, such as war drones, but weapons fill with excessive heat during each use, forcing operators to shut the technology down to cool.

But the Chines scientists reportedly developed a cooling system that blows gas through the weapon to push out heat and optimize the flow of the laser for precision shooting.

While laser weapons were once thought to be confined to sci-fi movies, governments worldwide have been working on perfecting technology for decades.

The US has long been working to develop what the Chinese scientists claimed to achieve, which would allow them to put lasers on drones and missiles. 

Chinese military scientists claim they have developed a cooling system for lasers. The technology pumps gas into the system and removes excessive heat, allowing the weapon to fire indefinitely (stock)

‘This is a huge breakthrough in improving the performance of high-energy laser systems,’ the team, led by laser weapon scientist Yuan Shengfu, told South China Morning Post.

‘High-quality beams can be produced not only in the first second but also maintained indefinitely.’

Lasers work by stimulating emissions, according to Beijing Times.

This involves excited atoms or molecules in a crystal or gas gain medium to a higher energy state.

When the atoms or molecules fall back to the ground, they release photos that are magnified through optical feedback, which results in a high-power laser beam.

The weapon’s mirrors and lenses keep the beam on a targeted path through the air, eventually heating the gas, disrupting the flow, and making the beam scattered.

Yuan’s team fixed these issues by developing the internal beam path conditioner, which uses gas to eliminate waste heat and maintain a pristine gaseous environment within the weapon. 

The US military has long been working to fit lasers on drones and missiles but has yet to overcome the cooling problem China claimed to fix. The US Navy (pictured) can only use massive systems on top of large ships

The new cooling system features several parts, including a gas flow control system, air source, heat exchanger and injection and suction system.

The air source first pumps dry air through the laser system, and the heat exchanger cools the components to the desired temperature.

In addition to removing excess heat, the gas flow reduces turbulence and vibration within the laser for more precision.

And it is also designed to keep the focus mirrors of the weapon clean.

 ‘Since the invention of the first ruby laser in 1960, people have been enthusiastic about transitioning from kinetic energy to laser energy for the rapid projection of energy at the speed of light, dreaming of laser beams to become ‘death rays’ that can instantly kill targets,’ Yuan and his colleagues said. 

‘Unfortunately, 60 years have passed, and while various types of lasers have been developed, the application of high-energy laser systems has not been successful.’

The US military has been the leader when it comes to breakthroughs in laser weapons, with some notable examples of high-energy lasers, including the Navy Advanced Chemical Laser (NACL), Middle Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL), Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL).

However, the massive and heavy weapons make them only useful for large military vehicles like boats and tanks.

This limits their range and mobility, but Chinese research could change how the nation conducts war – leaving the US behind.

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