Blockbuster sci-fi films with a military bent often come chock-full of high-powered lasers and computerized sensors. We watch such films with an uneasy comfort that such technologies do not exist in the real world. Or do they? Believe it or not, some of the things we see on the silver screen are actually now being implemented in modern military designs.
A case in point are weapons-grade lasers. According to officials from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft flying in international airspace was hit by a laser fired from a Chinese destroyer over open ocean. Though the laser could not be seen with the naked eye, sensors on-board the aircraft picked it up. Fortunately, no injuries or damage were reported.
This is not the first time that China’s military has fired lasers at U.S. and allied aircraft. An incident in 2018 involving a C-130 Hercules resulted in minor injuries to its pilots. Another incident in 2019 forced the pilots of an Australian HMAS Canberra helicopter to make an emergency landing.
Laser Capabilities Are Real
While it is true that humanity has not yet developed a laser capable of blowing airplanes out of the sky while still being compact enough to carry on the hip, laser capabilities for wartime deployment are absolutely real. The weapons-grade laser fired on the Poseidon in February is more than capable of destroying on-board sensors and other sensitive military equipment.
The fact that sensors designed to detect lasers have been developed by military researchers proves that laser capabilities are not to be taken lightly. Today it is disabling sensors and ruining sensitive computer equipment. Tomorrow it could very well be a laser capable of tearing a plane to pieces in flight.
A War of Technology
Incidents like the recent Poseidon lasing are likely an indicator of things to come. It is already apparent to anyone who pays attention to military affairs that technology is playing an ever-increasing role in modern warfare. In a little over 100 years humanity has gone from horse-drawn artillery and primitive semi-automatic rifles to laser-guided targeting systems with accuracy measured in inches.
We owe it all to computers and sensors, explains Rock West Solutions out of Goleta, California. Rock West engineers work with military officials and other private-sector contractors to develop the kinds of defense sensors and technologies that keep our military safe from enemy attack.
Lasers are just the beginning, according to Rock West. There are all sorts of sensor and big data technologies now in the pipeline, technologies that are destined to change the face of warfare for the foreseeable future. We are fast approaching the day when military might will not be determined by the number of boots on the ground. It will be determined by who possesses the most advanced technologies.
Still Room for Simplicity
Weapons-grade lasers tend to impress us because of what we have seen on the silver screen. Amazingly though, not all of the technologies deployed for military applications are so complex. There is still plenty of room for simplicity in the military arena.
For example, decades-old RFID technology is still used today for friend or foe identification purposes. Aircraft fitted with RFID sensors are easily identifiable as they fly through monitored airspace. Despite being so simple, the technology is critical to battlefield management and individual safety.
Next time you watch a sci-fi flick filled with laser weapons and fancy computer sensors, do not assume that it is all fantasy. Some of what you see on the screen might actually be in use today. Some of that sci-fi is actually very real.