Real-Life Ray Gun: Say When?

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Real-Life Ray Gun: Say When?

Post#1 » Thu Feb 23, 2006 11:03 pm

Real-Life Ray Gun: Say When?

JIN.jpgI was skeptical, when I first heard about the idea of using lasers and man-made lightning to detonate explosives at a distance. Not only did the technology sound fantastic. But the company pushing the real-life ray gun, Tucscon's Ionatron Inc., seemed so damn squirrely -- long on press releases and shady political connections, short on specifics about how their technology really worked. And that's before you start digging into the questionable stock deals and patent violations. So I wrote Ionatron off for while, despite more and more headlines about the firm and its "Joint IED Neutralizer" -- JIN, for short.

Then, over the summer, I got a call from an Army general who had seen the thing in action. By using femtosecond lasers – light pulses that last less than a ten-trillionth of a second – JIN could carve conductive channels of ionized oxygen in the air. Through these thirty-foot channels, Ionatron's blaster sent man-made lighting bolts. And they actually seem to work at neutralizing bombs. "We understand the physics of what we're trying to do. Now we're just working on the engineering," the general told me. "I think we're going to solve that problem -- and this is just a guess -- in 12 months, maybe 18."

It turns out the general wasn't the only one who was impressed. Last year, "then-deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz recommended investing $30 million in research and sending prototypes to Iraq for testing," the L.A. Times reports. Ionatron CEO Tom Dearmin told eDefense that the first of 12 units would be in Iraq by the end of July.

"But 10 months later — and after a prototype destroyed about 90% of the IEDs laid in its path during a battery of tests — not a single JIN has been shipped to Iraq," the Times notes. "To many in the military, the delay in deploying the vehicles, which resemble souped-up, armor-plated golf carts, is a case study in the Pentagon's inability to bypass cumbersome peacetime procedures to meet the urgent demands of troops in the field."

"The decision has been made that it's not yet mature enough," said Army Brig. Gen. Dan Allyn, deputy director of... the Joint IED Defeat Organization. Iraq is "not the place to be testing unproven technology."

But the Marine Corps believes otherwise and recently decided to circumvent the testing schedule and send JIN units to Al Anbar province in western Iraq... Based on their performance, Marine commanders said, they hope the device can eventually be used throughout Iraq.

Just about every arm of the Defense Department that deals with R&D has been struggling to figure out when to send new technologies to the field. Wait too long, and you're robbing troops of a valuable tool. Field a gadget too quickly, the un-worked-out kinks can ruin its reputation in the military for a while. Troops can even get hurt, relying on an unstable machine.

Usually, the Pentagon errs on the side of caution. Some of the most valuable tools in Afghanistan and Iraq -- the Predator drone, the Stryker armored vehicle -- were deemed not ready for prime time by Defense Department testers.

But despite "thousands of little items found wrong with the Stryker," it was fielded anyway, Army Test and Evaluation Command chief Major General James Myles told me recently. The problems were small and fixable enough that the Stryker was sent out "four or five years" earlier than what the old regulations would've required. So what if the brakes don't work in the extreme cold? "We can't wait for a perfect solution to get a weapon to the field."

The Times pairs the JIN hold-up with the "military's failure to provide sufficient body armor and adequate armor for transport vehicles." But that's not quite right. There's a big difference between getting proven life-savers to a combat zone, and figuring out when something brand new is good enough to be deployed. That goes double for ray guns.
February 12, 2006 02:55 PM | Lasers and Ray Guns
Latest Comments

Throwing more technology at a non technology problem won't make an iota of difference.

It is not that the technology doesn't look impressive.

It is not that the thinking ability and innovative approach is un-valued

It is simply that the issue in Iraq is not about the technology, it is about different approaches to valuing the world. Until we realise that, more lives will be lost and substantial amounts of money will be spent achieving little. There is a big difference between activity and productivity. At the moment, there appears to be an awful lot of activity.

Posted by: MPB at February 22, 2006 03:04 AM

What a bullshit,
again if stuff being utilized at warzones proves to be inaccurate more lives ar at danger then there are allready...
And to compare 300 million dollars to support home, live and pennyless southerners (and maibe forgotten but fellowman !)receving badly distributed (and to to lately distibuted) aid with the recent 70 billion dollars scraped tohether to be wasted on Irak, wasted on an other 500 lost soldiers, as many or more dead and starved Iraquies and an other 5-10 years for Iraq to suffer internal instability . Sound like lack of moral jugdement,Just because the military approach doesn't work , doesn't mean more money must be spend on gadgets..
And indeed finding such explosives is still the grand tour de force.
Were they honestly talking about 30 feet?
thats the length of a carbon fishing rod??
They may as well attach a joltred-up stungun to it...

Posted by: Maarten at February 21, 2006 05:51 AM

look this is ou r new brokyray!!

Posted by: wox at February 20, 2006 02:51 AM

what aload of crap...

Posted by: haha at February 16, 2006 07:33 AM

We are the most technologicly advanced and richest
nation on the face of the planet,can spend 300 mil
on trailers for katrina victems (which aren't beingused by the way)but we can't get our war fightersthe tools,armour and protection they need,and areASKING for,and WILL use the help!

Get this stuff to the field and put it to use,make
changes to it as you go to improve and refine the
tech to make it even more usable.I cannot believe
we can't have this ied problem nipped already if
the solution is right there in our hands,ready to

Posted by: katsesama at February 15, 2006 07:16 AM

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