The U.S. Marine Corps is pushing ahead with research and development into laser-induced-plasma less-than-lethal weapons that can temporarily blind and deafen individuals, produce painful burning sensations on their skin through clothing, and even blast out verbal warnings and commands at them from hundreds of yards away. Now, the service is interested to know if the same system can also function as a secure communications device or a sensor to warn friendly forces to incoming missiles or other projectiles and be compact enough to fit on a small truck.
On Oct. 24, 2018, the Marines closed their call for proposals for such a system as part of what is formally known as the Scalable Compact Ultra-short Pulse Laser Systems (SCULPS) program. In March 2018, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD), the Pentagon’s top less-than-lethal weapon program office, which the Marine Corps leads, demonstrated a similar experimental Non-Lethal Laser Induced Plasma Effects (NL LIPE) system at the Directed Energy to DC Exhibition in Washington, D.C.
“Past efforts to develop USPL [Ultra-Short Pulse Laser] weapon systems that generate scalable laser induced plasma effects (LIPE) have shown some promise, but these efforts were not able to achieve the desired effects at the required range,” the notice on the U.S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research program website explained. “The developed system was cumbersome and not feasible to be integrated on a small tactical vehicle.”
At a range of nearly 100 feet, the NL LIPE system was able to create flashes of light as bright as two million candela, thousands of times brighter than a typical household light bulb, according to the contracting announcement. At that same distance, it could generate blasts of disorienting sound up to 147 decibels, which is around as loud as a gun going off or a jet engine running, and produce “a sufficient level of thermal discomfort on human skin.”