Jan 172013
 
dragon-empire-covers-02
by Gene Turnbow

dragon-empire-covers-02Physicist turned science fiction writer Adam Weingold believes that he and his team can create a lightning gun capable of knocking out guided missiles with localized electromagnetic pulses created, in part, by high powered lasers.  The science, from what we can see from the Kickstarter campaign for Dragon Empire,the science fiction novel he’s currently writing which he hopes will help fund the weapon, looks reasonably sound.

I’ll let you process that statement for a moment.

Yes – this lightning gun has to be funded somehow, and Weingold thinks it will take a couple of million dollars.  He’s starting with a Kickstarter for $20K USD that he says is just the first step in getting all the necessary funding lined up.   The  book imagines how lasers, hypersonic missiles, stealth aircraft and satellite weapons might influence a huge war between China, the U.S. and U.S. allies in 2025.   Sales from the book is what he’s hoping will help pay for the rest of the project, or at least open the door to more funding opportunities.

“I never had a good idea for an entire fiction book until I started to realize that if directed energy weapons did nullify the effect of guided missile technology, then all of warfare would be changed — especially strategy and tactics,” said Adam Weigold, founder and CEO of Lightning Gun, Inc.

The Science Of It All

The U.S. military has investigated the idea of laser-powered EMPs in the past. High-energy lasers can create an ionized ball of plasma by ripping electrons from molecules in the air — enough to generate a small EMP pulse that could knock out the electronic sensors and guidance systems of missiles. If you armed an F-35 fighter jet with a kilowatt-class laser, you could theoretically make it invulnerable to attack by, say, a swarm of missiles.

Early experiments showed that lasers couldn’t be focused well enough over greater distances to ensure an EMP knockout blow. Variations in air pressure and atmospheric conditions like clouds and smoke can throw the laser targeting off by 98 to 164 feet (30 to 50 meters) over a firing distance of 0.6 miles (1 kilometer).  The EMP pulse has to be delivered within a radius of between 7 and 16 feet from the laser’s focal point in order to work. Weigold says, though, that their new patented technology dramatically improves the focal accuracy and the placement of the EMP energy.

Weingold needs something like $300-$500K to set up his company properly. He can’t get funding through the United States Department of Defense unless he has employees, with security clearances.  The Australian-born physicist has already moved his startup to the U.S. and unofficially recruited several physicists and engineers, so he’s stepping forward, but he has to solve a lot of problems before Lightning Gun can successfully scale its experimental results up to the kilowatt power levels needed for a viable weapon. It may not even be possible from a technical standpoint, but Weingold hopes successful funding and testing can lead to an operational weapon within three or four years.

Whatever the future, Weigold sees laser-powered EMP (LEMP) and other energy weapons as game-changing military technologies. “Remote weapons” such as guided missiles and drones have become dominant offensive weapons capable of dealing out death and damage from afar, but laser weapons offer the possibility of a cost-effective defense against missiles and drones in the future.

“I think as laser weapons (and LEMP) become smaller and cheaper, they have the real potential to offer defenders “remote shielding,” which will be the first real challenge to the era of remote weapons,” Weigold said.

Life imitates art, imitates life, with predictive fiction playing its role in the grand scheme.  Even if Weingold’s laser guided lightning gun project ultimately fails, the book itself might be worth a $10 contribution.

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