US Military Developing Laser Plasma Speakers

It probably won’t surprise you to know that the US military is very interested in using lasers as weapons. Directed energy weapons such as lasers have many advantages over more traditional kinetic weaponry, not least of which the fact that you don’t need to cart around ammunition for them. But somewhat surprisingly, some of the most promising laser developments have been in the field of non-lethal weaponry. While the mental image of a laser is usually a destructive one, recent demonstrations by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program show lasers can do more than blow holes your target.

As reported by [Patrick Tucker] of Defense One, a radical new laser-powered sonic weapon was shown off at the “Directed Energy to DC Exhibition”. The system uses two lasers: one to generate a ball of plasma when it hits the target, and another to modulate the plasma ball in open air. The result is a variation of the classic plasma speaker demonstration, where plasma is used as a a driver for a massless speaker.

Currently the system is capable of generating a deafening crack at the target area, with a measured intensity as high as 140 dB. That’s about as loud as fireworks or a shotgun going off at close distance, and in theory is enough to drive off whoever is unlucky enough to be targeted with the beam.

In time, the researchers hope to refine their secondary modulation laser to the point that they can play audio over the plasma. This would allow the beam to be used as a directed loud speaker of sorts, which could prove useful for defensive applications. Only the target would be able to hear the audio, which could be a recording telling them they were entering a secured area. A disembodied voice telling you to turn around sounds like a extremely effective non-violent deterrent to us. The voices in our head don’t have to tell us twice.

We recently looked at the possibility of targeted sonic weapons being used in Cuba, and of course, we’ve covered many plasma speakers on Hackaday over the years. Plasma speakers have always been more or less nothing more than a fun high voltage demonstration, so to see them potentially weaponized is a crossover episode we weren’t expecting.

[Thanks to Kenny for the tip]

27 thoughts on “US Military Developing Laser Plasma Speakers

  1. ” A disembodied voice telling you to turn around sounds like a extremely effective non-violent deterrent to us. The voices in our head don’t have to tell us twice.”

    Once science rules the world, that’ll disappear.

    1. Yeah, once we’re aware of this tech it no longer works.
      I’m reminded of an episode of Batman Beyond where a villain tried using this on Bruce Wayne, and the voice kept calling him Bruce. So he knew it was fake cause he doesn’t call himself that in his head.

      1. Don’t forget about kinetic torture issues like John Kiriakou exposed or complete EEG training human simulators to hack out EEG’s and remote control to cause compliance potential that are a combination of William Binney, Thomas Drake, Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Jesselyn Radack and Edward Snowden whistleblowing combined with what Mr. Kiriakou clarified in more modern times.

        Don’t forget there have been CIA whistleblowers in the past that weren’t prosecuted for some reason since I think the desperation of the rich wasn’t so grandiose, delusional, criminal and intensely technical integrated into mass media, consumer devices and deviant easily blackmailed, extorted and bribed lifestyles like international inbreeds.

    2. That line in the article reminded me of that movie Real Genius where they put a receiver on the guys braces and he wakes up to the booming voice in his head “This is Jesus Kent.”

      I think it will still be viable once knowledge of the device gets out. After all its still a laser generated plasma, who’s to say that couldn’t become a weapon in itself. You ignore the directed warnings so maybe it could be modulated to pulse directly against your body like being hit with a beanbag or rubber bullet, it seems to me that producing such a loud crack would indicate that the pulse might be able to induce some kinetic effects. There is also the option for thermal compliance, ignore it and maybe your shirt catches fire.

      Those with knowledge of the device will lose the mystery of what is happening but there will still be reasons not to ignore it.

    1. Not disembodied as such, but if you targeted a nearby bush, I’m sure you could generate enough plasma for the speaker without consuming the bush.
      Might be impressive enough to inspire a fugitive shepherd from an oppressed minority ethnicity to lead a revolt against the evil empire…

  2. Uh, that’s still looks like it’s going to hurt. When things turn into plasma… uh… I don’t think there’s not ablation going on??? Ouch! Maybe there is a minimum intensity to not burn yet cavitate or expand the air to pulse modulate. Interesting is the potential for really highly focused diameter lasers to perform a heterodyne speaker effect if the lasers are accurate enough or an auto calibration adjusts for the drift in the laser frequency. I’d guess also there can be a speaker effect like noted with the plate reverb effect. Basically, the opposite of laser microphone. Neat article.

    1. At one point in the video they fire the laser at some military fatigues, and it looks like it singes the material but doesn’t burn through.

      So I wouldn’t want to take a shot to the face by this thing, but it seems like body shots wouldn’t be too bad. Certainly better than being shot with a rifle, at any rate.

      1. I noticed that also and was almost going to comment specifically, though did in general. Interesting how the plasma depth can be controlled like an EDM machine sort off with shape form also, though not so much with this system. Neat article, thanks for sharing Tom.

        Permanent blindness might be an issue too.

        The Dune comment below reminded me of one time at Tech a grad student who I was working with who was no way shy first realized the surveillance around me and was out loud directly to my face like… “DUDE, IT’S like TUNING LIKE DUNE” in regards to the synthetic telepathy com. I was really ignorant at that time regarding the technology and only knew about masers to a small extent as someone show’d me a book regarding that I have never been able to find again. I’m guessing like electronics being classified in the USSR… that book was also. Neat, though to see the technology come out more main stream as needs to since I’m guessing is under the NSA veil of patent compounding and concealing. Maybe we’ll see the details of Flannigan’s work with Dolphin communication in our lifetime like the latest Purple Matress Co. commercial with the dog wheelchair. :-|)

        I don’t think they were into; though would be great to have home brewers like Jim Williams, Bob Pease and other analog gurus that passed before their time comment regarding.

        This article though aligns more with Robert Iannini published works:

  3. I don’t get it at all. Whats wrong with speaker on a drone? Probably a lot cheaper than hauling a high power laser within range. Also, if we want something that makes a large boom up in the sky, I am pretty sure the military has that one covered already.

  4. One of those LAWS type systems that isn’t really LRAD; though I wonder like any range in the EMS what kinds of levitation like, cavitation like, current flow like and other sound, body and mind effects can be implemented with one of the most dangerous and still classified:

    Neat the U.S. Navy came out with this system noted in the article. Crude albeit, great to have an idea in some level of detail what our tax dollars go towards. Still plasma creepy dangerous where 95Ghz active denial can be deadly and even an LRAD can be also with irreversible damage. However, I don’t think as easily as this plasma system, though I may be wrong.

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