Laser Weapons - Introduction

Deadly beams of electromagnetic radiation are probably the most popular fantastic weapons in culture. Their first appearance was in Welles's "War of the Worlds", where Martians used infrared (IR) laser beams – armed walking tanks against humans (and, fortunately, died from Earthborn microorganisms).

As we know, laser weapons exist in Transformers' Multiverse. An encyclopedia, which you can find at the address , tells us that 19 kinds of lasers exist in Multiverse, and not all of them generate coherent electromagnetic beams. To my not-so-happy surprise, the weapon called a Musket Laser fires hydrochloric acid (!), the Photon (!) Laser electromagnetizes electric circuits (!) and the Venom Laser (evil cackling) causes somehow paralyses. Yeah, most of weapons shouldn't even be called lasers, and a photon laser is the same thing as a "bullet machinegun".

So, my article is about laser weapons – how they actually work, their advantages and disadvantages and how you use them. And, in the end, weapons technologies are an area of knowledge which requires standardization. Said article consists from two parts: the first one is about construction of a laser blaster and how it works; the second one is about how to use a laser blaster.

Laser blasters: how do they work

There are several kinds of lasers, but they differ from each other by diapasons of EM radiation: lasers themselves work in infrared (IR), optical (visible) and ultraviolet (UV) diapasons; grasers (Gamma Ray Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) generate x-ray and gamma-ray beams; masers generate coherent beams in radio wave frequencies.

In the end, any laser blaster consists of several parts. The first one is a quantum generator which generates a coherent beam of electromagnetic radiation (the word "coherent" means that all photons possess the same wavelength). The second one is an optical system which collects photons, constrains their path and focuses them into deadly beam. Others parts are: a Fire Control System, a frame, an energy source and a cooling system.

Why do you need an optical system? Because a laser beam, which has just left quantum generator's "muzzle", is too disperse. It isn't focused enough to damage anything (well, besides visual sensors like human's eyes). And Transformers – mechanoids whose exoskeleton is made from programmable alloy and visual sensors are video cameras – will simply ignore it.

Any battle laser is outfitted with rangefinder, which calculates the distance between the emitting aperture (it's a lense placed in blaster's muzzle) and the target and transfers them to blaster's Fire Control System (FCS). After that, FCS regulates distance between lenses and changes angles of mirrors in the optical system. And a radiation, emitted by generator, will converge at the spot called lens's focus.

The energy source of laser blaster is a generator, which transfers an electric current by wires, or a replaceable energy cell. And, because lasers do not have 100% - efficiency, they are outfitted with either an air or a liquid cooling.

All battle laser's components are encased into its frame, which looks like a hybrid of a gun and a very large video camera. If the laser uses air cooling, you can see slits on its frame and hear a humming of ventilator. But if it is cooled by liquid, there are three variants of design. The first one is called a heat sink: after several shots the coolant tank will be overheated, and you'll have to replace it with the new one. The second variant means that laser gun has a built-in radiator, where heated liquid is cooled down. And the third variant is used for really, really big laser cannons – which are either elements of a point defense system, weapons of space vehicles or carried by gestalts and super-heavy armored vehicles. A coolant tank and a radiator are no longer components of the battle lasers – they are connected with it by flexible hoses. These hoses transfer cool liquid in and hot liquid out of cannon.

Fortunately for Transformers, who are fond of big guns, lasers are well-known for their extremely low recoil, so you can hide lascannon's large coolant tank inside subspace pocket and carry its heavy frame by two manipulators (if you're small) or by one (if you're as large as Megatron). But I wouldn't recommend it, because a lascannon as a heavy weapon isn't the best choice – its optical system's too fragile, and a particle cannon or a heavy caliber magnetic mass-accelerator are more robust.

Energy cells… well, their main parameter is how much energy they can store per kilogram. Nanotech ultra-capacitors can store 200 kilo joules per kilogram (maximum), but super accumulators, made from high-temperature superconductors, possess one hundred times more energy density (10-25 mega joules per kilogram). After discharging you have to replace your cell with a new one. And don't throw away used heat sinks and energy cells – you can reload them after battle (or loot from enemies).

"Buildings, fortresses, battleships, airplanes, rocks, mountains, the very crust of Earth – my beam will pierce, cut through and destroy all of it." Pietr Garin

Well, P. from the novel "Engineer Garin's Hyperboloid" was right – any laser beam, generated by sufficiently powerful quantum generator, capable of cutting through any normal matter (I don't count a neutronium and other forms of degenerate matter – they are incredibly rare and can't be mass-produced even by Transformers' technologies). But his chemical laser, focused by paraboloid mirrors (not by hyperboloid mirrors), was impossible to construct – otherwise we would have been able to use it since the thirties of the 20th century.

The unique capabilities of laser blasters come from their nature - they fire neither bullets nor bolts of particles but focused beams of electromagnetic energy. Why it is so dangerous? Well, we know that Sun's radiation is reason why our planet is warm – otherwise it would be a frozen and lifeless ball of rock, flying through the space. But laser blaster's radiation, unlike Sun's, is tightly focused and coherent. Any matter, enlightened by such beam, is turned not even into vapor, but into high temperature plasma. That cloud of plasma immediately expands, hits non-vaporized matter and squeezes it, creating a crater on target's surface. And that's why laser weapons are called blasters.

Because of their nature, battle lasers are dangerous – they are de-facto molecular disintegrators. Their beams disintegrate chemical bonds and send atoms flying away! The damage, caused by them, do not depend as much from materials' hardness, as from their abilities to absorb heat, melt and vaporize.

Returning to armor-piercing capabilities of lasers, I should say that a plasma cloud, created by beam, is opaque to IR, optical and UV radiation. A continuous beam can't vaporize more material, but instead will heat and squeeze plasma cloud. A crater, created by plasma blast, will become larger… but it's not always equal to "piercing through enemy armor". Why? It's obvious that you want not only pierce through protection of your foe, but also damage his/hers/its inner components.

So, let's generate a pulsed beam. After projecting a continuous pulse with duration of tens or hundreds of nanoseconds, laser's generator will not work for several microseconds. That's enough time for plasma cloud to disperse. The next beam will hit created crater's bottom and then laser's generator will turn off again. And so on, and so on, and so on… Instead of blasting a large crater on surface, a pulsed beam drills through armor and is more likely to actually injure your enemy.

Unfortunately, several problems emerge at that moment. First: any light beam is capable of a radial dispersion and part of energy will not hit the spot. Second: any atmosphere consists from atoms, and some photons will be scattered away. Because of that scattering when the battle laser is firing, you can notice a very wan single-colored beam. Third: it's impossible to focus a beam on a very, very tiny spot.

Actually, spot's diameter can be calculated by formula:

S=1,2*R*L/D

Where S – spot's diameter, R – range between blaster's muzzle and target, L – light's wavelength, D – emitting aperture's diameter.

Let's make some conclusions. The shorter beam's wavelength is, the longer range is. The less range is, the more damage is dealt. The bigger blaster's aperture is, the longer range is. In close combat, armor-piercing battle lasers will drill through almost any armor.

The other thing worth considering is the capability of lasers to knockback targets. I put bluntly: if your laser blaster has managed to knockback a Transformer, it has also drilled a large hole in your enemy and your gun isn't a pistol, but a large anti-tank weapon. And your foe is heavily damaged by such an attack.

And, finally, – an efficiency of different lasers. In atmosphere, while an IR-laser is the easiest to produce, a green or aquamarine-colored laser is the best choice. Blue lasers lose more energy from atmosphere's dispersion and UV-lasers ionize atoms by their beams (but it can be used to create an electrolaser). Grasers are useless in atmosphere: it's opaque to them. But they have very long range in vacuum and can be used as spacecraft's main weapon (alongside rockets, of course). But, what is more important, plasma is transparent to x-rays and gamma-radiation, so you don't need to build a pulsed graser for maximum damage.

Electrolasers

An electrolaser is a lightning gun. It doesn't use a coherent beam of light to damage targets; instead, it projects an ultraviolet laser beam. That bream, passing through an atmosphere, ionizes molecules and atoms on its way, creating a plasma channel. But the blaster has a built-in high voltage generator, connected with several electrodes, which are placed on its muzzle. That generator works simultaneously with UV-laser. When the plasma channel is created, it is an essentially long electric wire – and electrodes, placed on gun, pump an electric current through it.

Being hit by an artificial lightning bolt isn't very nice. First, it's very painful for any living creature. Second, that lightning will fry any non-protected electronics and has chances to damage an insulating layer. Third, the material of surface stroked by electrolaser's lightning bolt will be melted down. And, fourth, cybertronian electrolasers are designed to paralyze other Transformers. Because of that, they will fry small organic beings (like humans) in a single shot. And, like any laser, an electrolaser hits target instantly.