Early during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as American forces tore through enemy lines and closed in on Baghdad, did the US military fire one of its secret lasers at Iraqi civilians? It is a question that lingers in the minds of a few prominent Iraqi civilians and two respected Italian journalists. They believe a number of Iraqi civilians drove their vehicles too close to a check point near Baghdad’s main airport and other locations, and that’s when all “HEL” broke out.
They suspect a US laser cannon burned through the vehicles and literally cut to pieces many of the innocent occupants. One witness to the aftermath went on-the-record to say the apparent laser, in some cases, melted the faces off some of these victims, yet kept their entire body intact.
There’s no smoking-laser cannon evidence that such a despicable war crime was ever committed. But then again, this was the US military during the Bush administration. An era when US military big-wigs and civilian scientists had free reign to spend piles of cash on a toy-store array of weapons. An era that makes Hitler and his Nazi’s look relatively mild when it came to passion for all things used to wage war. Certainly a time when those running the weapons program, might unhinge mentally, and take their obsession with the weapon too far.
Before the invasion, as the US build-up labored on, there was much talk amongst Americans about the prospects of the Pentagon unleashing a number of new and perhaps even secret weapons on the Iraq battlefield. Weapons that only a few officers and scientists were aware of, considering only a few officers and civilian scientists had built them. Weapons that no doubt had undergone years of research, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop.
Indeed, the Pentagon told the likes of Defense Industry Daily that several Humvees mounted with a classified weapons-grade laser known as “Zeus” had been deployed to Iraq at the onset of the war. Compared to most US military lasers, Zeus is small and easily mobile. The Pentagon classifies Zeus as a (aptly-named) “HEL”, or High Energy Laser weapon. But Zeus, essentially a true laser cannon, only had one mission, said the Pentagon. And it was clear: Blow-up hidden IEDs and land mines.
But did the Zeus, or any HEL for that matter, have a secret secondary mission? Let’s say the military unit handling the laser weapon received orders to conduct a secret “demonstration”. And tested the laser(s) in a way that could have been deemed immoral? To perhaps, for example, test its ability to burn through “atmospheric distortion”, say fog and rain, or something a little thicker. Like human skin?
Even though the Pentagon was challenged to answer such questions, no way would they answer either yes or no. Yet if you listen to what a prominent Iraqi violinist and several doctors have to say, you might soon be scratching your head. Picture a scene, an aftermath, of an elite US military unit told to use the secret
laser in a different way – say, crowd control. And the experiment went awry as the laser’s power level was misunderstood by the US military officers leading this super-secret platoon.
Perhaps a good way to show just how far the US military has come to building a combat-style laser that can do serious damage, is to recall a test in a New Mexico desert in 1973. That year, the US Air Force shot down a winged-drone at the Sandia Optical Range, New Mexico.
For the most part, all lasers work in the same way. Get certain atoms excited by light particles, and photons radiate out. Reflect this light back into the excited atoms, and more photons are born. But whether the laser is just a bright light, or the kind that can shoot down satellites, depends on the type of atoms or “gain medium” you use to generate the laser beam. Such as certain liquids and gases, and also solids, like crystals.
Today, US military lasers are far past shooting down drones, no small feat of itself. They’re now capable of knocking mortars and missiles out of the sky. Lasers that can melt a hole in the side of a ten-foot cylindrical spear that’s traveling at over 700-hundred mph. On YouTube, a Zeus laser chews through thick metal as if it were Velveeta melting in the microwave. But like most US military’s weapons systems with huge black budgets, it is hard to gauge what defense contractors are exactly cooking up – and how long the technology is from being deployed to a battlefield. Yet in 2008, a laser mounted on Humvee – which suggests US military lasers are becoming smaller equating into greater mobility – shot down a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Moreover, experts agree the US military has spent between $100 to $200 million annually for over 30 years now on secret research into lasers, more precisely, laser cannons.
And it is the secrecy behind US military lasers that makes the evidence a US military beam weapon was used inappropriately by killing human beings at the Baghdad International Airport, even more scattered and difficult to piece together, like a complicated puzzle of a thousand pieces.
Nevertheless, the evidence, while largely circumstantial, is intriguing.
There are witnesses who are sure something strange happened not far from the Baghdad airport and other nearby locations during the beginning of the invasion. Their stories describe several post-combat aftermaths that even the most war-torn Iraqis, such as doctors, were having a hard time deciphering. To narrow it down even more, the tragic aftermaths appear to be your typical US troop-blow-away-civilian-that-comes-too-close episode. Nevertheless, one survivor claimed he was the target of a US weapon that killed silently and invisibly, taking-off heads and limbs with ease.
One of the witnesses to the aftermaths is a prominent violinist of Baghdad’s orchestra. The others are the mentioned Iraqi doctors who worked on the dead and injured of this apparent strange combat aftermath. The violinist claimed a large van with several civilian passengers was heat-warped into a “wet rag”. He added that other vehicles with civilians were also targeted. He said he saw victims with their faces melted off, but their bodies were untouched. He said in some cases the dead were hastily buried by US troops, but the bodies were later unearthed and taken away into the ink-stained night. The Iraqi doctors claim that during the same week the violinist discovered the melted van, about twenty-plus dead civilians were brought to their morgue with a confusing array of brutal injuries. Types of wounds they were not familiar with. Mysteriously, there was no sign of bullet or artillery wounds, they claimed.
These witnesses and their stories were first reported in detail by two respected Italian journalists, Maurizio Torrealta and Sigfrido Ranucci. They work for RAI Television, one of three major broadcasting channels serving Italy. The channel is owned by the government and controlled by the Italian parliament. Thus RAI is considered state-run news, and probably close to what PBS has to offer. Not surprisingly the channel’s share of the Italian audience is nearly half the nation.
Torrealta and Ranucci’s half-hour video is titled after America’s biggest symbol of science fiction: Star Wars in Iraq A video whose production and professionalism rivals that of any US-based effort, such as a story by NBC’s Dateline. The two journalists also traveled the world to get the story, speaking with experts like retired US Colonel John B. Alexander, a former program director at the US Los Alamos National Laboratory – a place widely believed to house a significant percentage of the US military’s secret “black” laser research. Interestingly, Colonel Alexander told the pair: “The research and certainly the concepts for direct-energy weapons go back many decades. What is happening is that the technology has now advanced sufficiently that were starting to see the weapons come into fruition. In other words, they’re becoming real.”
The two journalists also dug up statements made at the onset of the invasion by then-Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld during a press conference. The footage shows an American journalist asking Rumy specifically about “directed energy and high-powered microwave technology,” and he added, “When do you envision that you can weaponize that type of technology?”
Rumsfeld, who undoubtedly had, and still has, millions of dollars worth of stock invested in the company’s developing lasers for the US military, seemed to lose his cool a bit. Stumbling over the first part of his answer, then steadying himself:
“In the normal order of things, when you invest in research and development and begin a developmental project, you don’t have any intention or expectations that one would use it,” he said, as American troops closed in on Baghdad. “On the other hand, the real world intervenes from time to time, and you reach in there and take something out that is still in a developmental stage, and you might use it. So the – your question’s not answerable. It is – it depends on what happens in the future and how well things move along the track and whether or not someone feels it’s appropriate to reach into a development stage and see if something might be useful, as was the case with the unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Which prompted the journalist to ask, “But you sound like you’re willing to experiment with it?”
Also standing on the podium that day with Rumsfeld was Gen. Richard Myers, who responded or attempted to respond to the question, saying, “Yeah, I think that’s the point. And I think – and it’s – we have, I think, from the beginning of this conflict – I think General Franks has been very open to looking at new things, if there are new things available, and has been willing to put them into the fight, even before they’ve been fully wrung out.
And I think that’s – not referring to these particular cases of directed energy or high-powered microwave, but sure. And we will continue to do that”.
Let’s analyze what he had to say. The General stated, “…We have, I think, from the beginning of this conflict – I think General Franks has been very open looking at new things available, if there are new things available, and has been willing to put them into the fight.” At first he attempts to be half honest by saying, “We have”, but then like any PR-whipped General, he qualifies it with “I think”. He does it again by saying Franks is “very open”, and qualifies it with “if there are new things available”, which is safe to say he damn well knows they are.
According to Dr. Carlo Kopp, a well-known defense expert from Australia, “The next ten years will see the emergence of high energy lasers as an operational capability in US service.” He wrote that in Air Power Australia magazine in 2006. Two-decades ago, US defense contractors were able to unleash 60 kilowatts (60,000 watts) of power from a Gas Dynamic Laser (GDL) for a few milliseconds. In March of 2009, defense contractor Northrop Grumman and the US military’s Joint High-Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) project announced they had reached the 100- kilowatt level of laser power with a duration of over 85 minutes.
The 100-kilowatt threshold is what some experts have called the “holy-grail level” of laser power, or as the Pentagon likes to refer to it, “weapons grade”, or capable of shooting down a cruise missile or ICBMs. The military has consistently reached this level with gas-powered or chemically powered lasers, but not solid-state lasers, until Northrop Grumman did it in 2009. Yet the Pentagon may be shifting away from gas-powered or chemically induced lasers because for starters, they’re so damn big and heavy. Take the Air Borne Laser or ABL, the huge Boeing 747-freighter jet turned flying laser cannon being designed and tested by the US Missile Defense Agency.
The ABL, if it survives the Obama administration, might be capable of taking out boost-phase ICBMs (in the Earth’s atmosphere) by focusing its laser beam on the skin of the missile and simply melting a small hole, causing the missile to disintegrate due to its velocity. The ABL did this first time during a test in 2010 over central California.
Due to the size of the equipment and the fact you need thousands of gallons of hazardous chemicals nearby, it might be safe to assume that such a laser was not used in the battle for the Baghdad airport or anywhere else. But was a smaller version used? There is the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), for instance, a joint project with Israel. The THEL has a mobile counterpart (MTHEL), and between 2000 to 2004, shot down artillery rockets and shells, mortar rounds, and low-flying drones.
The program’s funding was cut-off in 2006, however. Similar to the ABL, another chemical laser still surviving is the Advanced Tactical Laser or ATL, which is loaded onto a C-130 aircraft. In September of 2009, the ATL completed its first air-to-ground engagement with a movable target. It melted a hole in the fender of a moving vehicle, said the US military and Boeing, the ATL’s civilian contractor. Another liquid laser making serious progress is the HELLADS, or the, which is projected by 2012 of having a power level of a 150 kilowatts, but weighing only 1,300 pounds, which according to Wired would make it ten times lighter than other liquid laser systems.