back to article Secret US spontaneous human combustion beam tested

American death-tech goliath Boeing has announced a long-delayed in-flight firing for the smaller of its two aeroplane raygun-cannon prototypes, the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL). The ATL blaster, mounted in a Hercules transport aircraft, apparently "defeated" an unoccupied stationary vehicle. C-130 transport plane with laser …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and not so much as a spent bullet left behind

    That's going to make an interesting episode of CSI...

  2. Andy 97
    Thumb Down


    Another way to have us all frightened, where do they get these ideas from?

    Fox News?

  3. Mark 91

    unoccupied stationary vehicle?

    One of the biggest threats to the soldier today, those unoccupied stationary vehicles.

  4. john 154
    Dead Vulture

    Well I'll be ...

    buggered, a flying Dalek......

  5. Stevie


    Successfully killing co-operative targets with a six-shot laser that needs a Hercules to lift it? I see the weapons scientists at the Pentagon are as pig-useless as the regular kind then. Probably wasted moths and millions of dollars on arguing what to call the damn thing before picking up a test tube or slide rule.

    Where are the army's laser rifles? Where are the Delammeters and Phasers for Azathoth's sake? Where are the military jetpacks, forcefield armour and pocket-sized nuke grenades?

    They should be made to give back their lambskins in shame!

  6. Ru
    Black Helicopters

    Next step: stealth hercules?

    Those things are *loud*. They're going to need a helluva long range to offer covert killing power. When you can mount this stuff in a common-or-garden black helicopter, then it will be useful. Until then, suspicious intense burns combined with a very loud, very large loitering transport aircraft are not going to leave much doubt in anyone's mind what is going on.

  7. Anonymous Bastard

    "without leaving any solid evidence of US military presence"?

    So some poor fella gets lasered to death from above and spontaneously combusts, the only known flying laser jobby belongs to the US and you don't count that as evidence? The only other suspect could be alien lizard-people/rulers/overlords.

  8. Steve Evans


    What about the other useful performance information... Rate of fire...

    Come to think of it, how long did they need to keep the beam trained on this dangerous unoccupied stationary vehicle. I guess we're all assuming the Sci-fi kind of pow-booom hit, but that's a bit of an assumption. For all we know it was slowly cooked over several seconds like beans in a microwave, not something which would be easy with a moving vehicle, especially when the driver notices things are getting warm and makes evasive moves.

    Oh well... I guess in future all military movement will be carried out under cover of fog, or maybe all desert vehicles will just have a big dust blowing fan fitted to the top, or maybe just a mirror.

  9. arex
    Thumb Up


    I sure hope they do psych-evals on the personnel that operate these things. I, for one, would abuse the HELL out of it.

  10. Kurt 5

    Demo footage available

    This is project Crossbow from the movie Real Genius. Except they used occupied moving vehicles.

  11. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!

    Smells like hot dogs

    Well the evidence will be the BBQed General and absence of any bullets.

    Maybe the soldiers of tomorrow will swop their armoured vests for covering themselves in baco foil to deflect the laser.

    What you say? Putting meat in foil makes it cook even better?

  12. gray_

    You wouldn't exactly need to be Miss Marple.

    "the secret supertroopers of SOCOM may be able to cause [...] a single person to inexplicably be incinerated"

    Oh look, there's Dave's smouldering corpse. How odd. Surely only a laser weapon could have done such a thing. If only we knew who owned such a dastardly device. Oh, wait...

  13. Don S.

    Nothing new here

    Dr. Evil developed this years ago, except he called it a frickin' ATL.

  14. Tom_
    Thumb Down

    The Filthy Truth

    "without leaving any solid evidence of US military presence"

    That's the only reason that these weapons are really worth developing and it's a nasty, immoral reason.

  15. jubtastic1

    pew pew pew?

    Isn't this just going to kick off another arms race?

    And won't these Airborne Laser platforms be seriously exposed to land based Laser defences that can be properly armoured/hidden and won't have weight or ammo constraints?

  16. Ray0x6

    winning rehtoric

    "directed energy weapon systems will transform the battlespace and save lives."

    as we all know, the purpose of any and all weapons throughout the course human history has been to save as many lives as possible. top marks to boeing for recognising this oft-overlooked truth of the engineering world's most misunderstood son. what joyous welfare-centric developments may we next expect from the happy hero behemoth? my money is on .50 cal gps timed love shells. no, wait! laser guided executive benefit rockets!

    hooray! time to start buying shares methinks.

  17. Sheinen

    finger lickin good

    Awesome, I wonder if they could adapt it to cook chicken in under a second...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saving lives

    Perhaps it's a sign of moral progress that the Boeing exec feels he has to pretend that this technology will "save lives". On the other hand, perhaps Genghis Khan said it would "save lives" whenever he ordered the massacre of an entire nation.

    I reckon I could probably save more lives with their budget.

  19. Mike Moyle

    Re: unoccupied stationary vehicle?

    "One of the biggest threats to the soldier today, those unoccupied stationary vehicles."

    Actually, considering that they rather often have big bombs inside of them... yes, they are.

    Not that that is likely to have been the originally-intended use for these things -- hitting known but defended ammo stockpiles in enemy-controlled areas strikes me as a much more effective use, for one -- but one bolt from the blue against a car bomb vs. getting one GI close enough to blow it up in an urban area seems a decent exchange, to me.

  20. northern monkey

    @winning rehtoric

    I can see it now - a guy opens up a box to find a ".50 cal gps timed love shell" and is bemused as to what happened to his fleshlight-a-like but gives it a go, just in case.

  21. Tony S
    Big Brother

    @AC 15:46

    "Perhaps it's a sign of moral progress that the Boeing exec feels he has to pretend that this technology will "save lives". "

    No - it's called "New Speak" as opposed to "Old speak" (1984: Orwell, G)

    So the MiniPax (Ministry of Peace) deals with armed conflict, MiniTrue (Ministry of Truth) deals with propaganda, MiniPlenty (Ministry of Food) deals with rationing, and MiniLuv enforces birth control.

    When using New Speak, it's important not to give negative connotations - so something is not bad, but ungood. Really poor is plus ungood - SHTF is double plus ungood.

    The aim is to make any alternative thinking - "crimethink" - impossible by removing any words which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion, etc.

    Welcome to the Future of mankind

  22. Mark Monaghan

    @Stevie: Wasting moths?

    You mean to tell me they're wasting moths now - the b*stards.

    Still I suppose you have to consider every angle in these committees.

  23. Ray0x6

    @northern monkey

    obviously, when fired timed love shells would go 'pop' in a very happy, smiley way and then flowers would bloom and my little ponies would prance all around and the sun would peep out from behind the thick, smoggy clouds of burning poppy fields and all the soldiers would put down their guns and realise what a silly waste of time and money this saving lives business was! also, there will be unicorns and oh god i should go home now.

  24. Dale 3

    Missed opportunity

    You know they could easily have painted up that plane to look like a shark. Easily! Was that too much to ask?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does it go to 11?

    Old news. Remember the drummers for Spinal Tap.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    The next logical step

    Head mount for sharks, anyone?

    Mine's the one with a perfectly round hole on the pocket.

  27. Damn Yank
    Thumb Up

    @Kurt 5

    Pass the popcorn!

  28. Glen 9


    Anyone else think the americans have been playing too many video games?

  29. Jean-Luc
    Thumb Down

    Besides the point

    More fancy weapons research that does diddly to win today's wars and to keep today's soldiers safe. Nor is it clear to me what it would achieve in a hi-volume, hi-lethality environment, say fighting an unnamed "Asian superpower" in 2025.

    The ABL version at least potentially has an ABM capability that would be difficult to replicate with another weapon.

    The only good things is that this is just research, unlike the F-22's pork barrel deployment which is costing silly US taxpayers plenty more $.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Wonder if...

    They have had a blast at making crop circles too?

    Well thats my theory anyway.

    AC for obvious reasons.....

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Looks like tinfoil hats will be coming back in style.

    Time to dig mine out of the closet.

    Remember, shiny side out!

  32. Anonymous Coward

    The only purpose for this sort of thing

    is to get the military to cover the costs of designing and building the first few huge ones.

    Then they'll start working on countermeasures, then they'll start working on counter-counter-measures. All the while they'll be developing hyper-efficient solid-state laser weapons. Then these will be rolled out across the battlefield and thick aluminium mirrors and smoke machines will become the defences of choice. Then when these prove far too effective against America's new weapons of mass liberation they'll release the new ProjectedKineticEnergy weapons which use a small, inexpensive chemical charge to propel a mass of lead at the enemy at supersonic speeds, reducing their mirrors' effectiveness and breaking their smoke machines.

    Give it maybe 10 years. El Reg, displayed crisply on the 100" projected holo-display of your automated jetpack, will be reporting on AugustaToyotaBoeing's new solid-state, pistol-sized 11kW blaster. The US gun-nuts will be decrying the requirement for a Tazer-style cartridge of confetti to be dispensed with every shot for tagging. Anyone dying will suddenly be woven into a very complex net of conspiracies.

    I'd also like to predict that HyperLester will be upset that it's not an all-American invention and amanfromtheasteroidbelt will talk about cheese. The iPhone 4G will be rolled out (without the ability to display photos or make phone calls to non-Apple approved numbers) and will be bought by the million for a couple of grand, and it will also be the year of Linux on the Desktop. Totally.


  33. Andy Baird

    Real Genius

    Kurt5 nailed it: the 1985 film "Real Genius" portrayed exactly this weapons system, right down to causing "a single person to inexplicably be incinerated - all completely silently and tracelessly"... nearly twenty five years ago. So now we know where the US military got the idea: from Hollywood. Why am I not surprised?

    "Real Genius" is a helluva funny movie, by the way--highly recommended. :-)

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Works for me !

    The sooner the bad guys get fried, the better. Get a fleet of thousands of these planes in the sky now. The only good terrorist is a dead terrorists.

  35. ShaggyDoggy

    I for one ...

    ... welcome our new 6 ton chemical laser flying overlords

    Of course I'll be wearing foil from now on, you never know when the beam from the sky will strike.

    And wtf is a chemical laser anyway, I thought they used light. Is it a bit like a chemical toilet, except it has a somewhat different function ?

  36. Ru

    "thick aluminium mirrors and smoke machines"

    Won't do anything against battlefield laser weaponry. A focussed laser beam is going to incinerate any target so fast that it doesn't really matter what it is made of. Thick, low-density ablative armour might help. Smoke screens must be deployed before any lasers hit you... forget about popping countermeasures as soon as the beam lights you up; it will be too late. A big cloud of smoke and dust may be safe against laser fire, but it is now a highly visible and partially blinded target for perfectly adequate conventional weaponry.

  37. PerfectBlue

    Big Whoop

    This might make a nice flashy headline, but it's a completely useless military weapon. You have a huge great lumbering aircraft with as few as 6 firing cycles that requires the target to stay in the exact same position for an unknown period of time (which is likely to be 10 or more seconds), and it not only requires a constant direct line of sight but also nice clear weather.

    A drone aircraft is small, agile, and nearly radar invisible. It can carry up to 8 guided missiles that can take out a main battle tank moving at top speed (Any model, from any country, even the top US models) in a single hit, and it costs a fraction of what these beasts cost. I'd go for the drone any day. Even an old fashioned F-15 or F-16 could take out the enemy faster, cheaper, and more safely than this brute.

    The only real use for a laser weapon is for space warfare (Mounting lasers on satellites), or for point defence against missiles or incoming heavy rounds such as shooting down artillery shells. Anything else is a step backwards.

    Seriously, lasers would take us back to the days of line of sight comabat. And that would be like goign back to the Korean war.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    The Alan Parsons Project?

    100 Billion dollars etc etc....

  39. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: finger lickin good

    Sod that.

    What I want to know is can it light a barbeque more quickly than you can using a lit cigarette and two gallons of LOX in a bucket tied to a piece of 2x4......

  40. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Would be interesting to know

    How much beam time they spent "defeating" that vehicle? A minute, a second?

    Also, anything that is capable of instantly melting the engine block of a humvee cannot be silent IMHO - must sound something like a lighting strike, I presume, with rolls of thunder due to the heat expansion of the tunnel of air through which the beam travelled.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    @By Anonymous Coward Posted Thursday 3rd September 2009 04:19 GMT

    Only terrist is a dead terrorist...

    One problem.

    Define terrorist.

    The Yanks saw the IRA as freedom fighters.

    The Palastinians see the PLO & Hamas as freedom fighters.

    The Cubans saw Castro / Che as freedom fighters

    The Amercians saw the Taliban as freedom fighters (you may want to research that one).

    One mans terrorist is another mans hero.

    America (and therefore lapdog No Longer Great Britain) often fucks up when it comes to picking sides. If it's not the western way, it's the wrong way.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    doublespeak is doupleplusungood

    "directed energy weapon systems will transform the battlespace and save lives"

    Huh???? Allow me to translate :

    "directed energy weapon systems will transform the battlespace and destroy the lives of ( brown / black / yellow) (towelheads / jungle monkeys / commies), but those don't count as 'lives' anyway since they're not 'merkin "

    fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity. You want to save lives? Stop building weapons!


  43. Dan Breen
    Paris Hilton

    pedant time... (sorry)

    "A 40mm cannon aboard a normal AC-130 could "defeat" a stationary ground vehicle without damaging its surroundings: a .50-cal sniper rifle fired from a helicopter could do the same to a moving one."

    depends on your definition of "Without damaging it's surroundings", shrapnel from the 40mm on it's own will make a mess of nearby walls, vehicles, animals, people etc and then you have the seconday shrapnel from the vehicle itself.

    As for hitting anything with a single shot from a helicopter, well, not without a big pile of luck. Machineguns aren't fitted to door mounts because they look cool, (although mini guns on door mounts definately do), it's because the higherrate of fire gives a higher chance of hitting something from an inherently unstable firing platform.

    Paris - because be honest, if you had the chance, you'd hit that.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But wasn't the problem...

    That they cannot find the enemies in the first place?? And bad recon led them to drop smart bombs on schools and weddings?? For the Merkins, precision was never a problem. It's deciding /what/ to hit where things go ungood.

    Anyway, with all that obsession to 'safe lives', how's your Health Care Reform coming along?

  45. Will Shaw

    Dr Evil

    I wonder how many wags at the ATL's homebase have been asked to "stop humping the lay-zerrr"....

  46. Richard 102

    Death-tech Goliath

    Hey, *I* want to work for a death-tech goliath! That's got to be more interesting (and more humane) than the stuff I've been doing for the marketing and legal w@nkers for the last few years. Certainly it's something my socialist/pacifist/nazi in-laws would be more proud of.

  47. Chris 116
    FAIL thought I was crazy!

    Tin foil hats anyone?

  48. Dave 135


    "This milestone demonstrates that directed energy weapon systems will transform the battlespace and save lives," said Boeing exec Greg Hyslop.

    And so would having the patience to operate a genuinely democratic foreign policy you war-mongering moron.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you could negotiate with terrorists...

    ...we'd be sitting at a negotiation table instead of cleaning up after terrorist kill innocent civilians.

  50. John Chadwick

    Everyone has to start somewhere.

    Now, where would we be if we had had that attitude to the hand canon (1300's), would we ever have gotten to the arqubus, let alone a mac-11.

    Lets ask the question again in 2700 when we've had as many years to develop the death ray as we have the firearm.

    I suspect the rate of fire of an arqubus was quite low, mind you, you didn't need a C130 to carry one.

  51. Richard 102


    I wonder if Nigel Tuffnel is the lead research scientist.

    FWIW, the US never did regard the IRA as freedom fighters; the Kennedy family did. (Old Joe, mob boss that he was, knew how to get them money and weapons.)

    This weapon may seem impractical today, but in the sense that arquebusiers would have seemed to Napoleon. They're developing a new weapon system; you have to work your way up to the battlefield-ready ones.

    And negotiating with/ignoring/appeasing terrorists worked so well during the previous two Democrat administrations that it surely is a wonderful idea now. (I had three friends die in the World Trade Center attack. I don't have a lot of inclination to be appeasing terrorists.)

  52. burkspatrick

    around corners?

    My question is can it go around corners. To me it's useless if it can't go around corners. Why don't they develop smart bullets and smart missiles kind of like in Babylon A.D. that will follow you wherever you go.

  53. Peter Mellor

    Defence against directed energy weapons

    Assuming that the energy is transmitted in the form of electromagnetic radiation of a reflectable wavelength, simply arrange for the the beam to his a bank of autocollimators. (Think: bicycle rear reflector.) Work it out.

    BTW, while at university in the 1960's, I went with the maths society to visit the MoD secret research establishment in Baldock, Herts. (It's not there any more.) We were proudly shown a solid wooden door damaged accidentally by the discharge of a laser. There was a circular hole 3 inches across, right through the door, with smoke blackening on the paint above it. The guys might have been taking the p**s out of a load of gormless undergrads, but it looked impressive.

  54. Mr Mark V Thomas

    Re:The Alan Parsons Project

    Surely you mean Project Wu-Tang Clan or Project Bananarama...?

  55. Anonymous Coward

    alien lizard-people/rulers/overlords

    I for one, welcome our new alien lizard people. If they bring me a frikkin' laser, i'll welcome them with open ...

  56. Francis Boyle

    Re: @Kurt 5

    Sorry, there will be no popcorn. - Mythbusters

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    This ain't about fightin' wars...

    or savin' lives.

    It's about profits for the military industrial complex, but I'll bet that's already been stated.

  58. Bug


    The original article says that:

    The laser beam's energy defeated the vehicle.

    "Defeated?" That could mean any of a wide range of things, but the vagueness strongly suggests that, just as the smart money predicted, it wasn't particularly impressive. Why did we expect that?

    Well, back in November last year, this program was investigated by the AFSAB and determined to be a complete waste of money. Since then, Boeing has had the spin machine on full bore to avoid getting cancelled. One of the publicity efforts they made showed artists' impressions of applications for the thing. And one of those pictures showed it "defeating" a vehicle ... by flattening a tire. (Perhaps due to excessive honesty, that picture now seems to have disappeared.)

    Yes folks, if you stand in this beam unprotected, you will be badly hurt, maybe even killed. But to block it you don't need super-reflective mirrors or advanced aerosols, a simple plank of wood will do the job. Going to destroy ammo dumps with this thing? Not if they are covered over!

    It was in the same spin campaign that they came up with the ludicrous "stealth death ray" application. Quite simply, the reason we have no death rays half a century after lasers were invented is that they are very poor weapons with almost every operational parameter far, far inferior to conventional firearms.

    The one feature of lasers that is actually a positive is the light speed energy delivery, which makes them much easier to aim at ultra-high speed targets. That is the reason they are being actively investigated for missile defence. But here Boeing has been poodling around with a "miniaturised" (well, slightly smaller) version that is clearly unsuitable for missile defence, and someone has called them out on the whole "applications" issue. They seem to have had a bit of brain-storming session and tried to come up with things that sounded more useful than flattening tires, and one of the things they came up with is the "stealth death ray".

    As publicity, the "stealth death ray" has worked great. Heck, it got them into El Reg!

    But as numerous other bloggers have noted, it doesn't make a blind bit of sense. The USA is the only country that has a flying stealth death ray (or rather, the USA is the only country silly enough to be funneling cash to a company that is promising to build one.) Contrary to what some people have claimed, due to industrial accidents the diagnosis of laser burns is well understood. It is obvious that this system will have no "deniability" whatsoever.

    What is even sillier is that the chosen platform, the C-130 Hercules, is a cargo plane that is about the most unstealthy aircraft in existence. It cannot fly at extreme altitudes, it has only intermediate range, and it has the radar signature of a large barn fitted with a pair of high speed windmills.

    In contrast, in the places where you might want to use a stealth death ray (e.g. Waziristan), it is remarkably inexpensive to just pay someone to go and shoot the guy you're after. If you want it to be deniable, we recommend paying in used bills.

  59. Anonymous Coward

    pahh, this is OLD tech

    I was frying ants with a magnifying glass in the mid 1970's

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