US Army’s Lightning Weapons – DARPA

A guided lightning bolt travels horizontally, then hits a car when it finds the lower resistance path to ground in a U.S. Army test.

Credit: U.S. Army | Picatinny Arsenal

Compiled by Lisa Phillips of

Army Looks to Strike Foes with Lightning Weapon

June 22, 2012

by Live Science Staff

Today’s military lasers can blind spy satellites or burn enemy vehicles, but tomorrow’s could guide lightning bolts to strike and destroy battlefield targets.

A U.S. Army lab is testing how lasers can create an energized plasma channel in the air — an invisible pathway for electricity to follow. The laser-guided lightning weapon could precisely hit targets such as enemy tanks or unexploded roadside bombs, because such targets represent better conductors for electricity than the ground.

“We never got tired of the lightning bolts zapping our simulated (targets),” said George Fischer, lead scientist on the project at the U.S. Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.

The weapon idea mimics the way that lightning leaps from thunderclouds to strike the ground — the electricity follows the path of least resistance, Fischer explained.

Army researchers used an “ultra-short-pulse laser of modest energy” that keeps the laser beam focused through its own intensity. The laser’s electro-magnetic field can harvest electrons from air molecules to create the plasma pathway for electricity to follow.

“During the duration of the laser pulse, it can be putting out more power than a large city needs, but the pulse only lasts for two-trillionths of a second,” Fischer said.

Such a “laser-induced plasma channel” could also direct high-powered microwave pulses as well as electricity, according to a 2009 Wired article. Microwave pulses have already become weapons in Air Force missiles used to burn out the electronic systems of air defense centers, military jets or drones.

Army soldiers may not get to target enemies with Zeus-like lightning bolts anytime soon — the technology remains a lab prototype. But the idea joins a growing arsenal of possible futuristic weapons such as the Navy’s railgun superweapon capable of hurling hypersonic projectiles over 50 to 100 miles, or the Army’s hypersonic weapon for striking targets anywhere on Earth within an hour.

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.


Military Science: Hack Stormy Skies to Lord over Lightning

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[Photo: Lawrence Livermore National Lab]

The military’s scientific fringe has toyed with weather manipulation and geo-engineering for years. Recently, ideas like adding iron to the ocean, or covering the Arctic with dust, have been floated in a bid stave off global warming. But the Pentagon’s also got a long track record of plotting to screw with enemy climates and improve their own operational abilities.

Now, Darpa’s got a new target for geo-hacking science, and if they can make it work, we might see modern firearms making way for weapons of the mythological variety. The out-there research agency is soliciting proposals that would harness control over “the natural mechanism of lightning initiation” by coming up with a way to launch manmade lightning bolts, and prevent or redirect natural lightning strikes – and their accompanying destruction.

“Lightning causes more than $1B/year in direct damages to property in addition to the loss of lives, disruption of activities (for example, postponement of satellite launches) and their corresponding costs,” the solicitation notes. Until now, no one’s been too clear on how lightning is formed or how it travels, and the fact that most of the activity is going on inside thunderclouds doesn’t help.

That’s why Darpa wants “rocket-triggered lightning” that can be shot off from the ground and then studied as it moves and touches down.

Once the natural mechanism of lightning formation and travel is understood, the agency wants a plan to predict lightning strikes – and then either stop the storms, or reroute them to a better strategic location.

And Americans everywhere should brace themselves for stormy skies, because Darpa wants the storm-brewing techniques to be tested nationwide:

The United States is home to thunderstorms of various type, duration, scale and intensity. This program would like to capitalize on the unique geographic features of various locations across the CONUS [Continental United States] that offer an increased likelihood of intercepting thunderstorms that exhibit unique characteristics.


A survey of the US Military was conducted a few years ago. A staggering 25% of the enlisted members of the US Armed Forces stated they would fire on American citizens on American soil.

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