Lasers are a brilliant example of human ingenuity. If you like pocket-sized facts you can pull out at parties, here’s a couple for you: the word ‘laser’ is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation; and lasers have existed in the world for the same amount of time as Antonio Banderas, Hugo Weaving and Jeremy Clarkson.
Lasers allow us to cut through and delicately engrave all sorts of material (from paper to steel), play CDs, remove unwanted tattoos and create artworks with light. Nowadays, the tech is so advanced and so readily available, those with the skills can build their own light sabers and laser bazookas at home.
Powerful lasers available to the masses
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, everyday humans can now purchase hand lasers so intense they’re capable of lighting matches, setting fires and leaving their mark on wood and other materials. Their beams reach so far it’s illegal to point them to the sky in case of aircraft flying overhead. While every laser company out there will tell you theirs is the ‘biggest, strongest laser in the land’, we found one guy who’s got a pretty solid claim on the title.
Biggest laser weapon
While these handheld lasers could do some damage, they’ve got nothing on the weaponry currently being developed and deployed by the world’s military forces. Once again though, it’s difficult to say who’s got the biggest and the best. The forces who possess weapons sizeable enough to be contenders for this category tend to fall into two camps:
- those who keep them a secret;
- those who brag excessively about them.
This means the laser weapon that appears to be the biggest in the world may be exaggerated by its owners or less powerful than a secret weapon owned by someone else. Or both.
Since we’re not trained in international espionage, we’re deferring to Dubai’s International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) and press releases from weapons developers. We’re dubious about their reliability; particularly as they all say different things. But this is the most dependable info you’ll find on laser weaponry outside of spy circles. According to the experts who visited the 2017 IDEX conference, the world’s largest laser weapon belongs to China.
The machine, dubbed ‘Silent Hunter’, looks like a stolen prop from the old Blade Runner set.
Its beam can slice through a light armored vehicle from a kilometer away. Using fibre optic lasers rather than the old chemical varieties, Silent Hunter is less bulky with more accuracy over a greater distance. The weapon is intended to be used to take out enemy missiles, bust through artillery, and bring down aircraft and drones.
China claims Silent Hunter’s output falls within the 50-70 kilowatt range. This makes it more powerful than the 30-odd kilowatt laser the US Navy has been using since 2014. While they acronymised their Laser Weapon System to the butch sounding ‘LaWS’, they installed it on a ship with the least combative name ever chosen for a war vessel: Ponce.
The Ponce crew recently started testing a massive 150 kilowatt upgraded version of LaWs. The weapon can be set on a spectrum from dazzle to destroy (their words, not ours), capable of momentarily blinding someone or blowing their vessel to pieces, depending on the circumstances.
Lockheed Martin—a global company dealing in defense, security and aerospace technology—has also just announced a new laser weapon to rival the Chinese. While it’s based in the US, Lockheed Martin has assisted the Australian army with weaponry and has just announced completion of a new 60-kilowatt laser for their own US military. While it’s smaller than the Navy’s latest upgrade, this does give it some advantages. Its size makes it easier to cool, more portable and better suited for smaller targets.
Most powerful laser cutters
Like the handheld lasers, when it comes to laser cutting machines, every brand claims to have the biggest and the best. While we’re not going to weigh in on the debate (you can check out all the different brands and options here), we will say they are mesmirising to watch in action.
Biggest laser in the world
While all of the lasers we’ve looked at are impressive, there’s one behemoth that eclipses them all. Born in 2017 to a collection of scientists from Britain and the Czech Republic, the ‘high peak power laser’ has apparently been blitzing all of its tests. The scientists claim their prodigy is ten times more powerful than any other laser on earth. Im terms of average output that is.
While its 1,000 watt power output is impressive on its own, the laser’s ability to provide sustained high-energy pulses is what makes it stand out above the rest. In awe of its impressive strength, its proud parents have called it ‘Bivoj’ in honour of a fabled Czech strongman.
According to Tomas Mocek, director of the facility in which it was brought to life (HiLASE), Bivoj’s 1,000 watt average output is a world record, breaking a barrier previously considered impassable. There are two other lasers in the world capable of output like Bivoj’s (one in Austin, Texas and the other in Osaka, Japan). While their peak power is high, they can only get it up a couple of times a day.
“They do not have so-called ‘average power’. This is a combination of the repetition rate and the energy. Our laser has the highest average power, which is important. The repetition rate in Osaka and Austin is significantly lower.”Tomas Mocek, director of HiLASE
Bijov is a hefty unit, weighing in at 20 tonnes. While his construction cost the euro equivalent of around 66 million Aussie dollars, Bivoj will be able to offer his services to a whole range of industries, from aeronautics to energy production. In an interview with the French Press Agency (AFP), Mocek spoke of vague plans to commercialise the laser by the end of 2017.