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What others say: A real death ray

By Dale McFeatters

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Friday, April 12 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Navy has developed a laser beam that can shoot down enemy drones and disable the armed speedboats favored by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, AP

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Buck Rogers' career was mostly documented in comic books and the radio; his appearances in movies and on TV were limited and in black-and-white — which with today's generation obsessed by high-quality video is almost the same as not existing at all.

And the storylines were something between implausible and lunatic: For example, here's a typical scenario described on the Internet: "Buck Rogers finds himself in the year 2430. Based in a secret lab in a cave behind Niagara Falls (the city of Niagara was now the capital of the world), Buck battles intergalactic troublemakers."

Rather than troublemakers, the intergalactics were simply troubled, as anybody would be if condemned to Niagara and amusing themselves by constantly threatening civilization. The military strategists in the balcony of Pittburgh's Grandview Theater, their feet anchored in a rich, sticky mulch of half-chewed Jujubes and spilled Coke, came to a unanimous conclusion: "We need a death ray."

Finally, after all these years — and who knows where the intergalactics are and what they're up to — we have our death ray. Thank you, Cmdr. Don Winslow, another comic strip.

The Navy has developed a laser beam that can shoot down enemy drones and disable the armed speedboats favored by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. They are "non-kinetic" weapons, meaning they don't fire those projectiles that, after a miss, unerringly find enemy orphanages full of photogenic children.

The Laser Automatic Weapons System, said to cost $32 million, relies on electricity and will keep firing as long as the ship has electric power. Each shot, the Navy says, costs $1, which will make it the cheapest ordnance in the service, except for rocks the sailors pick up on the beach.

If successful, the LAWS will counter a key Iranian naval tactic, sending swarms of speedboats on the attack, by blinding and dazzling the crews of the boats it fails to sink. The weapon is to go into service this fall.

If these weapons are successful, we owe Buck and Don a debt of gratitude — just as soon as we can get our feet unstuck from the floor.

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