The U.S. Army has built and tested a humvee equipped with a laser gun turret
that can quickly destroy unexploded munitions and roadside bombs. The system,
called Zeus-HLONS (HMMWV Laser Ordnance Neutralization System), uses an
industrial solid state laser, normally used to cut metal, but can also ignite
explosives up to 300 meters away. Normally, engineers have to approach such
munitions (shells, cluster bombs aircraft bombs) or roadside bombs, place
explosives next to it, then move away, trailing a detonator wire behind them,
and then set off the explosive to destroy the bomb or unexploded munitions.
Using the Zeus laser is a lot cheaper (a few cents per laser shot) and safer
than the traditional method. Zeus is particularly useful when you have an area
with a lot of unexploded munitions just lying about. The munitions are often
unstable, meaning that just picking them up could set them off. The Zeus system
can be fired up to 2,000 times a day. Last year, a Zeus-HLONS was sent to
Afghanistan for six months last year, where it destroyed 200 items, including 51
in one 100 minute period.
However, Zeus is currently stuck in development because no one in the army
wants to "own" it and pay for manufacturing it. While destroying unexploded
munitions is an engineering task, Zeus-HLONS was developed by the U.S. Army
Space and Missile Defense Command. Development is continuing, including the use
of a more powerful laser. One thing the engineers would like to see is some way
for Zeus to destroy buried munitions and land mines. But the laser cannot
penetrate earth very effectively. As things stand now, Zeus-HLONS will remain on
the sidelines until someone decides it's important enough to spend money on and
adopt as another item of equipment.