Monster US arms'n'aerospace outfit Boeing is pleased as punch this week to announce that it has "successfully demonstrated" its new Humvee-mounted raygun, the Laser Avenger - intended to prove "that directed energy weapons are relevant to today's battlefield, and ready to be fielded".
Holy crap, one might think. Energy weapons, relevant to today's battlefield, ready to go?
That's got to be something pretty exciting - maybe a handheld blaster rifle, better in some ways than an AK47. Or, more prosaically but very usefully, a lightning-fast beam which could zap salvos of Katyusha rockets or mortar bombs out of the air - very welcome in the constantly-harassed fortified bases of Iraq or Afghanistan.
Well, no, actually. What we've got here is a gyrostabilised automatic turret from Boeing's existing Avenger air-defence system. Avenger normally packs Stinger missiles and/or a .50-cal heavy machine gun, but this year Boeing has fitted it out with a 1 kilowatt solid state laser.
Just what use this might be isn't immediately clear, though Boeing reckons Laser Avenger would be a great way of clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) or perhaps terrorist/insurgent bombs (Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs) out of the way. It seems you can shine the raygun at such things, and after a while they explode.
Boeing said: "During laser firings [last month] the Laser Avenger engaged and destroyed five targets representing IED and UXO threats... at ranges that allowed the system to be operated at safe distances from the target."
Well, that is impressive. Although you can do the same job - probably quicker - with a suitable rifle, actually: probably with less chance of detonating the explosives. And you don't need a whole Hummer-load of gear in that scenario.
So what else can Laser Avenger do? Apart from maybe light a cigar?