London, August 13 : The U.S. Air Force is planning to mount on a Hercules aircraft an airborne laser weapon called the "long-range blowtorch", which can hit a target without leaving any fragments of munitions.
The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) will enable the U.S. to convincingly deny any involvement with the destruction it causes, a benefit that the Air Force experts have dubbed 'plausible deniability'.
"The target would never know what hit them. Further, there would be no munition fragments that could be used to identify the source of the strike," New Scientist magazine quoted John Pike, an analyst with the Virginia-based defence think-tank Global Security, as saying.
Depending on conditions, an ATL can deliver the heat of a blowtorch with a range of 20 kilometres, which is great enough that the aircraft carrying it might not be seen, particularly at night.
Since there exist no previous examples for comparison, it may be difficult to discern whether damage to a vehicle or person was the result of a laser strike.
The 5.5-tonne ATL combines chlorine and hydrogen peroxide molecules to release energy, which is used in turn to stimulate iodine into releasing intense infrared light.
Once mounted on the Hercules aircraft, which the U.S. uses for accurate cannon strikes on moving vehicles, the ATL may bring a new level of accuracy to such attacks, such as being able to pinpoint a vehicle's tyres to disable it safely.
Boeing announced the first test firing of the laser, from a plane on the ground, earlier this summer.
A larger version of the laser, intended for missile defence, is also nearing initial testing. It will be carried by a Boeing 747.
Cynthia Kaiser, chief engineer of the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, and John Corley, director of USAF's Capabilities Integration Directorate, were unavailable for comment.