Intended for healthcare professionals


Blinding laser weapons

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 29 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1392

Still available on the battlefield

  1. John Marshall, Frost professor of ophthalmogya
  1. a United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, London SE1 7EH

    Ever since the publication of H G Wells's War of the Worlds military strategists have dreamt of using beams as weapons. Weapons using optical radiationhave the advantages of having unlimited, weightless ammunition; a huge range; almost instantaneous delivery of energy; silence; and under certain circumstances, self targeting. With the advent of the laser in 1960, the possibility of beam weapons became a reality. Present laser systems can deliver terawatts of power to remote targets at the speed of light. Although military designers soon determined that laser systems that would destroy armoured targets or aircraft required huge amounts of power and resulted in large, unwieldy systems, they rapidly appreciated that soldiers' eyes were a relatively easy target.

    The human eye is vulnerable for three reasons. Firstly, it is the only organ that allows optical radiation to penetrate deep within it.1 Secondly, the optical properties of the surface of the eye, the cornea, and to a lesser extent the lens …

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