Battleland

The Navy's Ultimate Pointer

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A laser beam fired from a ship set this boat afire / Navy photo

The Navy — sometimes — moves at the speed of light. That’s how fast it went from announcing it had ignited a boat on fire with a baseball-sized laser beam to hints that this new class of weapon could be a key tool in the frustrating fight against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

A tip of the sailor’s cap to the Office of Naval Research for the $100 million accomplishment, which takes some doing against a target bobbing up and down on the ocean (just ask the Air Force — they’ve been trying to do the same thing with a laser crammed into a 747 to destroy enemy missiles in flight for years).

Unfortunately, we often read about these breakthroughs — and how they are going to change the face of warfare — and then nothing happens. I’ve been covering the military for eons, and writing up non-lethal technologies, for example — battlefield stun guns, heat generators, noise machines and other Tom Swiftian creations — for nearly as long. But few have ever been deployed, and certainly no game-changers. So let’s root for lasing pirates, but keep our fingers crossed that this science project can make its way into the fleet at all deliberate speed.

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