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.
The HLONS (HMMWV Laser Ordnance Neutralization System), commonly known as ZEUS, is a solid-state laser weapon which is used by the U.S. military in order to neutralize surface land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). The ZEUS-HLONS system was a co-operative effort between SPARTA, Inc. and NAVEODTECHDIV (Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division) to demonstrate that a moderate-power commercial solid state laser (SSL) and beam control system could be integrated onto a Humvee (HMMWV) and used to clear surface mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or unexploded ordnance (UXO) from supply routes and minefields.
Over its test and deployment history, ZEUS has eliminated more than 1,600 ordnance items of 40 different types with more than a 98% success rate.
In March 2003, ZEUS was deployed to Afghanistan for 6 months to demonstrate its counter-mine capabilities in a combat environment (Operation Enduring Freedom). It was used at Bagram Air Base and neutralized more than 200 munitions (including 51 in one 100 minute period) of 10 different types. At the time, the ZEUS-HLONS system was a 1/2 kilowatt laser.
On March 16, 2005, ZEUS was deployed to Iraq to assist in explosive ordnance disposal activities there as part of a three-vehicle convoy protection concept.
It is currently being used in Iraq by the U.S. military, in the first battlefield use of any laser weapon.
A directed-energy weapon (DEW) emits energy in an aimed direction without the means of a projectile. It transfers energy to a target for a desired effect. Intended effects may be non-lethal or lethal. Some such weapons are real, or are under active research and development.
The energy can come in various forms:
- Electromagnetic radiation, in lasers or masers
- Particles with mass, in particle beam weapons
- Sound, in sonic weapons
In science fiction, these weapons are sometimes known as death rays or rayguns and are usually portrayed as projecting energy at a person or object to kill or destroy. Many modern examples of science fiction have more specific names for directed energy weapons, due to research advances.
Laser weapons could have several main advantages over conventional weaponry:
- Laser beams travel at the speed of light, so there is no need (except over very long distances) for users to compensate for target movement when firing over long distances. Consequently, evading a laser after it has been fired is impossible.
- Because of the extremely high speed of light it is only slightly affected by gravity, so that long range projection requires little compensation. Other aspects such as wind speed can be neglected at most times, unless shooting through an absorption matter.
- Lasers can change focusing configuration to provide an active area that can be much smaller or larger than projectile weaponry.
- Given a sufficient power source, laser weapons could essentially have limitless ammunition.
- Because light has a practically nil ratio (exactly ) of momentum to energy, lasers produce negligible recoil.
- The operational range of a laser weapon can be much larger than that of a ballistic weapon, depending on atmospheric conditions and power level.
Modern ballistic weapons commonly feature systems to counter many undesirable side-effects mentioned for them in the above comparison. As such it follows that laser weapons’ advantage over ballistics could end up more about elegance and cost.