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The Navy's Free Electron Laser System Will be More Than Just a Death Ray

• popsci.com

The Navy has been seeking its “Holy Grail” free electron laser (FEL) weapon for a while now, but it would rather you think of it more as a multipurpose laser platform than a death ray. While the Navy’s ship-borne FEL, currently under development at Boeing, will certainly be used to knock incoming threats out of the sky, naval officers really want a platform that can also be used for tracking, communications, target designation, disruption, time-of-flight location, and a variety of other tasks.

Such a multipurpose tool certainly makes the Navy’s laser system seem a more practical use of funding, and a free electron laser is the proper tool for the job(s). All lasers require some kind of medium to turn light into high-energy beams--solid state lasers use crystals, while chemical lasers use (you guessed it) a stew of unfriendly chemicals. Both of those versions have their pros and cons, but neither is extraordinarily versatile; they generally power their lasers up to a certain wavelength and that’s that.
 
 

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