As regular readers will know, I have a perverse fondness for bizarre examples of baroque weaponry. So I am very happy to share with you the latest example of forward-thinking militaria to be drawn to my attentiion (thanks, John and Simon!). No less august a periodical than Defense Review reports on the Stavatti TIS-1 infantry combat system ...
a "white paper" proposal that was submitted to the U.S. Army for the Stavatti TIS-1 (Tactical Infantry System-1) Gasdynamic Laser Weapon. The TIS-1 is a laser rifle that utilizes a hypersonic jet of gas to create photonic energy in the form a very powerful laser. Thus the term "gasdynamic". The Stavatti TIS-1 was submitted as a possible technology for the U.S. Army's LFLAN requirement. "LFLAN" stands for "Light Fighter Lethality After Next". LFLAN involves small arms technology proposals that would not be implemented until 15-25 years down the road. In other words, truly futuristic technology.The laser itself looks pretty reasonable, in an if-we're-talking-about-laser-weapons way ("laser" and "weapon" belonging in the same sentence in the same way as "automobile" and "rubber-band powered"), but the power supply is what makes this one special. In search of the ultimate in infantry-portable enemy-slaying goodness, Stavatti have one-upped all previous attempts by proposing to use a radioisotope generator containing 750 grams of Polonium-210. This would, of course, provide the necessary 100 kilowatts to power the man-portable death ray. It would also provide 125 petaBecquerels of radiation (as compared with the 100 pB of Cesium-137 spewed out by the B reactor at Chernobyl), and the need to pressurize it to 4000psi leads me to agree with my military informant's summary that "it might actually achieve the near-impossible feat of making Project PLUTO look environmentally benign by comparison."
I will also confess that my suspension of disbelief took a slight knock when I got to the bit about the TIS-1 also sporting a bayonet lug.
Anyway, I'd just like to say that I fervently hope the Pentagon's planning and procurement folks give this proposal the attention it undoubtedly deserves. As Polonium-210 is accounted for (when you can buy it) at a market price of roughly $12 million per gram, this weapon system will cost roughly $54Bn per rifle per year to run — the US Army could afford almost an entire squad, and thus might have to scale back their other projects accordingly.
(PS: 100 kilowatts is, in automobile terms, about 130 horsepower. So if you were to ditch the Dr Strangelove power supply the gadget could plausibly be mounted on a HMMV or Land Rover. But I find that idea somewhat disappointing ... and anyway, what would be the point of sticking a bayonet on a vehicle-mounted laser cannon?)