back to article Boeing announces 'Laser Gunship' completion

Airliners'n'deathware behemoth Boeing announced yesterday that it had fitted a high-energy laser cannon aboard a C-130 Hercules military cargo plane, creating a "Laser Gunship". The company expects to commence blasting "mission representative" test targets next year, firing deadly energy bolts from a "rotating turret that …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    So remind me, if this was Iran...? would we view this story? as exciting new technology or as a potebtial death ray that will kill us all in our beds?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The first Bombards were unwieldy, specialist use things that required specialist servicing and had a tendency to blow up and hamburger the crew. So maybe in 700 years or so there will be man-portable laser guns that are more generally useful...

  3. Andy

    A Blu-Ray version?

    I see from the picture the death ray is red, is there

    a blu-ray version?

  4. samuel duckfield

    Brings a whole new meaning to...

    friendly fire...

    smokin !...

  5. Ralph B

    In time for Xmas ...

    ... to ensure Data Protection compliance by Santa and his elves?

  6. Law
    Paris Hilton

    RE: So remind me, if this was Iran...?

    But it's not Eye-Ran... it's America, which scares me even more! :S

  7. Ash

    All well and good...

    ... but when can we see Atreides Sonic Tanks?

    Longer range than a missile, those sound waves...

  8. Hedley Phillips

    So remind me, if this was Iran...?

    Agree totally with you there.

    Double standards yet again.

  9. Stuart Van Onselen
    Thumb Down

    RE: So remind me, if this was Iran...?

    If this was Iran, it would be exactly the same as it is now: A solution looking for a problem.

    A big, heavy, slow, non-stealthy, expensive, delicate, toxic, low-capacity and low-powered solution at that...

  10. Trygve Henriksen
    Thumb Down

    Gosh... 100shots...

    No mention of how long it'll take this thing to burn through and destroy a target(a 'real' target, not something painted matte black... ) or accuracy.

    10 - 20Km range means you NEED air supremacy before this thing can be allowed near its intended target, because - no matter what you say about the C-130 - it's not exactly a fighter...

    And if you have air supremacy, why not just do it the 'oldfashioned' way, with a gun or rocket? Probably cheaper, too...

    (And they aren't as adversely affected by meteorological conditions)

  11. Spleen

    More high-tech crap paid for by the weary taxpayer

    Although this sounds like an incredibly overpriced and overcomplicated way of doing things (not that that ever stopped Americans, look at the iPhone), it's better than the ABL mentioned for frying nuclear missiles. Whereas the ATL is merely expensive, the ABL is downright useless. Unless it's 100% likely to destroy 100% of all nuclear missiles fired by an enemy power, which it isn't because nothing is 100% reliable 100% of the time, then at least one nuclear missile is going to get through. And as loony as the Americans are, they're never going to go to war if it means New York, or Los Angeles, or even Tel Aviv being turned into a cloud of radioactive dust.

    Of course, what wins wars are large numbers of troops on the ground with adequate protection and equipment, not high-tech superfluous crap like this. But that sort of stuff is too low-margin, and if government officials didn't buy the high-margin stuff then they wouldn't get any of those lucrative non-executive board seats and consultancies after 'retirement'. If government was truly open and honest then all defence departments in western governments would be called The Ministry/Department of Chocolate Teapots.

  12. Leroy Fevrius

    RE: So remind me, if this was Iran...?

    You wouldn't be able to read this website, and your would live in fear of the secret police locking you up!

  13. Stephen Gray

    @ Trygve Henriksen

    And the US doesnt have air supremacy? And you prefer exposives to an accurate weapon? You must be American to be that dumb.

  14. Anonymous Cowherd

    Talcum powder

    Presumably people in target lands could just shoot clouds of talcum powder into the air when they come under attack.

    Or is talc now banned as war materiel?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Through the Looking Glass

    This will not cheer up the grunts. I have quite a few friends who are vets, and they used to cheer like crazy when one of these babies flew over:

    Back in the 'nam days, these suckers could put a bullet or tw in every square foot of a football-sized field.

    Tended to clean up the other team just a bit.

    This thing will do a rather ineffective plink or two, then need to be sent back to the US for reloading.

  16. jon fisher

    Did they hire Val Kilmer?

    I'll get me coat.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    Time to polish up your suits of amour and stick some mirrors on your roof....

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Try outs

    So where do i sign up to beta test this bad boy???

    I already have a few ideas on the targets i could use!

  19. Neil Hoskins


    ..."anti-materiel". Not the same thing at all.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Upside down!

    Billions of dollars and they've built the thing the wrong way up!

    How are they gonna shoot down an icbm with a belly mounted laser?

    Wonder what the tele-ban will make of this thing when they see their mates get inexplicably vapourised in the street? Which is, lets face it, it's true use - a terror weapon intended to scare the bejeesus out of anyone deemed to be a bad guy.

  21. mark carlisle
    Black Helicopters

    scifi speak?

    "transformational directed energy weapon"

    thats gotta win a prize for innovation, or they stole it from a crap sci fi novel.

    btw does the black heli look like its trapped in a ring of deflected lasers?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Lovely, does the job *exactly* as required

    Look, the real reason this device is implemented is to convert yet more tax into corporate profits. That's why the US developed a pen that could write in zero gravity whereas the Russians simply used a pencil, and its been downhill from there with an acceleration when Bush came to power.

    In general there are *always* far more efficient ways of doing things in the military and it's even easy, if that was the intended goal. Take military IT, if you take what Network Enabled Capability to its logical concusion you could remove about 50% of costs, but that would thus deprive a good deal of the present leeches of their food, and deprive people leaving the military of a nice advisory position. It's a sort of second pension plan, only more surrepticiously, and still paid by the taxpayer. Given the old boys/golf course circuit influence changes ain't gonna happen.

    It's a bit like the NHS medicine budget. You could cut that back by a large amount with some intelligent application of new medicines, licence management and new treatments, but that's not in the interest of those who run the NHS, if anything they want a LARGER budget to waste.

    In summary, this new weapon is perfect for what its real aim is (sorry for the pun). It's just that its purpose is not as stated.

  23. laird cummings
    Thumb Up

    Specialized weapon for specialized targets...

    This isn't a main battlefield weapon. It's a *very* long range sniper. Yeah a conventional sniper can nail a target at maybe up to a mile with similar precision, but *getting* that sniper to the target is a bit of a challenge, expecially if the target's highly mobile.

    The new deathray plane is only really usable when you have high-value, highly mobile targets where you *really* want to avoid collateral damage. Say, for instance, a mobile SAM battery set up in a hospital courtyard... what, you say *that* never happens in the real world? Hah! It happens all the time. Now, you can pot the control van, the prime mover, and maybe the missile launcher, all without blowing up anything. Maybe the battery commander would be up for a good grilling too, for setting up in a place so certain to attract a deathray.

  24. Steve
    Thumb Up

    War Criminals

    Presumably this would make American airmen, their commanders and the commander in chief war criminals

    Since lasers are expressly prohibited under the geneva convention as anti personnel weapons.

    Unless the moving trucks and communication towers are first guaranteed to be empty of life of course...

  25. Tawakalna


    by the Beard of the Prophet, we've already developed a high-tech defence against against your infidel terror-weapons..'s all those mirrors we confiscated after the Revolution. We'll turn your death-beam back onto you!

  26. Mike Powers

    Re: Russian pencils and American pens

    AC: Yeah, I've heard that story, too. Most people leave out the first day of the mission, where the Russians blunt their pencil and learn that they didn't design the vehicle with a sharpener.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC "does the job"

    Actually the Americans used pencils as well, but the lead would often break and could have got into the on board systems causing havoc. That's why they invested in the pens.

  28. mahoney

    @ the looking glass

    is it just me, or does the pic on that page look like the KKK has been given laser beams?

  29. Sillyfellow

    great more ways to kill people

    just what we need right? better, scarier and more efficient ways to kill people.

    nice (not!). just what the taxpayers had in mind for their heard earned dollars.

  30. laird cummings


    Don't be a prat.

    Tank cannon are not to be used as "anti-personnel weapons" either, by that same convention. That doesn't mean that your challenger crews must politely knock upon the turrets of their foes and invite them to vacate as their vehicle is about to be rendered redundant. No, the treadheads just fire 'em up, and be damned as to whom might have been aboard. Likewise, .50cal sniper rifles are technically too heavy to be using on people, per the conventions. Yet NATO (most certainly including UK and US) forces use them all the time. Shall we haul the snipers before the Geneva Green Table, then?

    As for the lasers and the convention, you even got *that* wrong - they're only banned from anti-personnel use when their *sole* purpose is to permently blind or produce disabliity. IOW: They can still be used for good old fashioned killing and blowing up stuff.

    Frankly, the only way a human is going to get zapped by the deathray is if they're sitting in a high-value target, and are too dumb to vacate when it starts heating up.

  31. Anonymous Coward


    The Looking Glass Squadron logo has to be one of the worst military logos I've ever seen. I guess the flyboys didn't have a good artist at hand when they developed it. Mahoney's comment is right on.

    That logo should grace the halls of MOBA:

    The "space pen" is actually a semi urban legend:

    It's the one with the extra long sleeves...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Anonymous coward

    'Actually the Americans used pencils as well, but the lead would often break and could have got into the on board systems causing havoc. That's why they invested in the pens.'

    Actually NASA never invested a penny in pens. The space pens were developed by the Fisher company who saw a market for a non-flammable (remember early American spacecraft used 100% oxygen atmospheres) pressurised pen that could be used by astronauts and pilots. Fisher sold the pens to NASA from 1967 onwards at a discount. Eventually both sides switched to the Fisher pens on all their missions.

  33. Matthew Smith

    Can it be defocused?

    Instead of popping a single precision target, you could wipe out the eyesight of enemy combatants over a very wide area. Much more efficient.

  34. james marley

    Re: War Criminals

    "By Steve

    Posted Tuesday 11th December 2007 15:22 GMT

    Presumably this would make American airmen, their commanders and the commander in chief war criminals

    Since lasers are expressly prohibited under the geneva convention as anti personnel weapons.

    Would only apply if the americans had actually signed up to the Geneva convention which I do believe they didn't get round to doing. Thats how come they can get away with using napalm and such like on Iraqi civilians even though it is banned by most of the rest of the world.

  35. Thomas Hayes


    ...something to take out Kerry Katona and those god awful Iceland adverts.


  36. Mike Moyle

    Re: Space pen vs. pencils

    I first read about this in an article by Spider Robinson who supposedly got it confirmed by Armstrong while they were both on a discussion panel. Supposedly Senator Proxmire gave NASA one of his "Golden Fleece" awards for using pens instead of cheaper pencils.

    Which probably wouldn't have helped the Apollo 11 astronauts when they had to "hot wire" the Lunar Module when one of the bulky EVA packs broke off the switch that started the ascent engine.

    Fisher pen's version is here:

    Multi-million-dollar spacecraft - two-dollar pen... sounds like a bargain to me.

    Note: At least one person on the Snopes message boards claims that it was, in fact, a Flair felt-tip and not a "space pen", but that version does not appear on the main Snopes page while the Robinson story does (IIRC) specifically mention the Fisher pen and, since I tend to trust those sources more than J. Random Poster, I'm going with the version as I heard it originally.

  37. KTLA


    So, this forum is is populated by folks that don't understand:

    1. War

    2. What a military is for

    3. The Geneva Conventions

    4. The US space program

    5. The difference between various laser uses

    6. Why you develop weapons for the military you don't understand what it's for (see #2)

    7. The difference between living in a free society, and not

    8. How lucky you are that someone else does all the hard work, so you're free to complain about everything but yourself.

    Nice readership...

  38. Morely Dotes

    A couple of serious observations

    1. I am retired from the US military. The USA is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and we spent many, many hours ensuring that our troops knew what is permissible and what is not (e.g., you can't shoot at a medical facility, place of worship, school, etc. unless someone there is shooting at you first; prisoners must be treated humanely; and so on).

    2. I owned a Fisher space pen a few decades ago, and would again, if I actually wrote with a pen these days. Regardless of hype and anti-hype, it wrote smoothly and reliably until all of the ink was used, which is more than can be said of most ballpoints.

    3. The laser Herc would be useful against high-value targets in places where conventional attacks - bombs, missles, and bullets - would create too much collateral damage; such as an RPG gunner in an occupied-by-civilians school, church, mosque, or hospital.

    4. Shooting down the Herc would create a huge problem for whoever was on the ground in the general neighborhood of the crash. That self-contained laser would become uncontained, highly-toxic materials, spread over a wide area, pretty damn fast upon impact.

  39. AgentHammer
    Thumb Up

    Im exited...

    When the computer was room sized people thought it was silly. Now its portable and useful... so to will the weapons grade laser. I cant wait.

  40. Christopher E. Stith

    Geneva and all that...

    The United States did sign and ratify the original Geneva Convention. The United States did sign and ratify the three consequent convention papers. The United States has not ratified some of the additional protocols introduced since 1949.

    All of those who really want to go onto the 'net and talk about the Geneva Conventions should, as Morely Dotes seems to, know what the hell they are talking about.

    Also, from Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, find these words: "Nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention are not protected by it."

    From the Third: "Each Party to a conflict is required to furnish the persons under its jurisdiction who are liable to become prisoners of war, with an identity card showing the owner's surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number or equivalent information, and date of birth."

    Also find in Article 4 of the Third convention who is considered and who is not considered a Prisoner of War.

    No intelligent and productive discussion about meeting or violating obligations under the Geneva Conventions can take place if the participants in the discussion are not informed about what the Conventions say.

    At issue in most discussions about the US and these treaties these days are whether the Taleban was a party to the Conventions, whether the combatants were properly classified as protected combatants, and whether the US intentionally misclassified some of the people involved in order to skirt the issues.

    If anyone wants to blather about the Conventions and whether the US is right or wrong in its adherence or lack thereof, please at least know this much. You can read the complete English text of the treaties at

    Now, where do I find an 800-pound pack of Jiffy Pop for the test site for this laser?

  41. Brian Miller

    @laird cummings

    You said,

    "Say, for instance, a mobile SAM battery set up in a hospital courtyard."

    "Now, you can pot the control van, the prime mover, and maybe the missile launcher, all without blowing up anything."

    So are you trying to imply that shooting a 100kw laser into a missile launcher CANNOT detonate the explosives contained therein???

    Bad example for the use of a poorly thought out, expensive weapon. Also, don't you think that if only the control vans were taken out (not that many SAM's need them, the guidance for the missiles is usually self contained) The SAM's would start being primed to explode when loss of the controls was detected, even if purely for the propaganda of saying that the lasers still cause explosions.

  42. Charles Manning

    Pens vs pencils

    Well the real reason is probably marketing and not technical. Remember we're talking about the 1960s when anything to do with space was just the mustard and kids & parents would snap up anything to do with space. Every second kid had some NASA poster on his bedroom wall and an Apollo model hanging from the ceiling.

    Business plan for many companies was:

    1. Associate Brand X pen, cornflakes, toilet paper, toothpaste with NASA/space.

    2. Advertise: "Hey kids, why use a crappy Brand Y product when you can use the same one as [insert iconic name here] and be one of the team".

    3. Sell shed loads of Brand X to every kid out there.

    Technical superiority does not enter into the equation [except to make some differentiator and promote novelty].

  43. oldfartuk

    Talcum? :O

    Talcum powder woudl be lethal - instant Fuel - Air fireball...........

  44. Chris G


    Two questions occur to me. Where in the article or any where else does it say this thing is easy and accurate in it's acquisition of a target? If a sam or anything else is in a hospital or a school what is to stop the patients or kids getting radical tans as well as the target? A plane flying through turbulent air aiming at a target on the ground ten K away is unlikely to get smack on the bull's eye immediately.

    The other thing is, When one of these falls out of the sky ( and one , or two or more definately will) what kind of impact will the pleasantly toxic fuel have on the environment in which it arrives? Not all combat aircraft when crashing, conveniently land on the enemy, a great many of them land on friendly territory. Perhaps the yanks will convert Gitmo as a recharging station for them as polluting bits of Cuba is not a problem compared to splashing toxics on bits of US landscape.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I highly doubt we are going to see more than 1 or 2 of these things in the air doing "combat"

    Aiming should not be a problem as it will simple use the same stabilizing tech that cameras on news helicopters have.

    Laser will pass through anything and melt glass and mirrors before they can reflect the beam.

    At only 4 inches across this is a precision weapon that fires in short pulses from a long distance with great accuracy.

    While still awesome (even if it just the 747 version crammed into a 130) it will be useless and/or obsolete when it actual needed to be used.

  46. James Cole

    Boom Baby.

    I'll keep my tank-gun toting C-130: <a href="">AC-130H Spectre</a>

  47. Rich


    According to Wikipedia ( it runs on H2O2, iodine, chlorine and KOH. Which need care in handling, but aren't especially nasty.

    The exhaust is potassium salt, water, and oxygen, with traces of Cl2 and I2. None of which, again, is all that unpleasant if dispersed from a high-altitude aircraft. I suspect you'd have a higher Cl concentration in a swimming pool than you would standing on the ground under an aircraft that had dumped a few tonnes of the stuff at 10000 feet.

    It sounds like a very big lightstick to me..

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    US Napalm

    It was a 1980 UN convention against the use of Napalm that the Americans didn't sign up to. And as can be seen in this article the truth is in the detail.

    I have freinds who when going through their UK military training got shown plenty footage of Americans in Iraq as example of illegal war activites and generally how not too fight a war, so good luck everyone when they get these bad boy laser pointers to work.

  49. Mr Larrington

    Talcum powder?

    Why bother with the expense? I believe there to be plenty of sand in Iran.

    (Peers nervously around for Jacqui Smith's Arrest-O-Bots)

  50. Trygve Henriksen

    @ Stephen Gray

    Air Supremacy isn't something you automatically get by being a superpower...

    It's something you fight for by making damn certain that the opposition can't challenge your own craft.

    That means taking out their airforce, their early-warning installations, and setting up your own uncontested radar installations.

    As SAMs can be mobile, and have decentralized control, part 2 may not always be that easy to achieve.

    (The Norwegian system that was used in Washington DC during the Bushmeister's inauguration can have many launchers and radars at different locations, all connected together wirelessly, and can be readied in 15 minutes... It gives you an 'instant no-fly zone' )

    And no, I'm not American.

  51. Dave

    Space pens

    take a look at Fisher's History site. Note that they claim US astronauts used pencils in the Mercury and Gemini programs...

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ray Guns (As in Ronald Rayguns)

    Not to worry, it's only going to be used against shoplifters.

  53. Des

    @Mr Larrington

    I don't think you need to worry about Jacqui Smith's Arrest-O-Bots just at the moment ;)

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One born every minute

    It doesn't matter WHAT new toy the DARPA/military-industrial complex come up with, the American military recruit from the dumbest 10% of their population & so are likely to fire it at "friendly forces" YET AGAIN.

    Well, given the very few ex-regular military personnel that are currently in the Republican section of congress they're bright enough to know better than to risk their own Ivy-League asses. They are the ones who want a fight, but don't actually want to be there when the fighting occurs - despite them being those with most to lose.

    Why fight for what you wish to retain (money, power etc.), when you can convince someone without all the trappings of success to do it for you?

  55. heraux
    Jobs Horns

    even cheaper

    One needs no high evolved intellect to control the gun

    And.. one cannot recall or interrupt the press of the key

    no waining later..

    no remorse..

    no time-out

    no running away

    no higher philosophy

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