Technology 8 min read

Top 8 Ray Gun Fails (and other weapons) in Military History

Stefano Buttafoco |

Stefano Buttafoco |

It’s time for space blasters already. In this article, we give you the rundown on 8 ray gun projects that shot high but fell short.

Most of my favorite characters are villains. Specifically, I tend to like the evil genius type the best. There’s something about a mad scientist or a galactic dictator that’s just, well, really cool in my eyes.

Most of my favorite characters are evil. #dontcallmemad #preparethedeathrayClick To Tweet

Perhaps it’s the nuanced drama of intelligence versus base instincts. The split between wanting to build amazing things, and wanting to inflict amazing pain.

Maybe it’s the impressive, intricate plans. The ones that span decades and end in ultimate power.

Knowing me, though, it’s probably just the really big lasers. The kind that blows up planets or carves your initials into the moon. Ever since Alderaan real estate became very, very cheap, I’ve been enamored with giant ray guns.

Alderaan exploding


Apparently, I’m not alone, which is nice, but not necessarily reassuring. I mean, I’ve seen scientific research try to echo science fiction in amazing ways.

That’s not what this article is about, though.

This article is about scientists who tried to make sweet futuristic weapon systems that either failed or went unused. These failures and neglected machinations are both funny and are likely to teach us a thing or two. Just, if you’re going to use them for evil, do it in science fiction. I don’t want any culpability in your own galactic-conquerer fantasies.

Top 8 Ray Gun (and other weapon) Fails:

1. Big Babylon

We’re off to a good start with Big Babylon. BB here was an enormous “supergun” that makes a howitzer look tiny. With an impressive 151-foot-long barrel, Big Babylon was supposed to be used to launch satellites in space. Sadly, it was impractical for that use, and only a few prototypes were made.

Still though, the inventor Gerald Bull gets a pat on the back for trying to make the biggest gun ever and circumventing all of that “rocket science” bologna.

Of course, he did sell his ideas to Saddam Hussein. Then, he was later assassinated, possibly by Israelis or Iraqis themselves. Apparently, he was something of a “double-dealer“. That’s my kind of evil genius.

2. Laser-Induced Plasma Channel

Alright, now we’re cooking with laser beams.

The laser-induced plasma channel is a technology that can make lightning strike in the same place twice.

That got your attention? The plasma channel works by shooting a laser at a target that conducts electricity better than its ambient environment, including the ground and air.

High intensity and heat from a laser beam help to guide an electric discharge, making it shoot straight and on target. The source for this fantastic contraption? None other than The United States Army.

“For very powerful and high intensity laser pulses, the air can act like a lens, keeping the light in a small-diameter filament,” said lead scientist George Fischer. “We use an ultra-short-pulse laser of modest energy to make a laser beam so intense that it focuses on itself in air and stays focused in a filament.”

The thing is, we heard about this back in 2012, when it was successfully tested. Since then, we haven’t heard much about this weapon.

3. Pulsed Energy Projectile

The pulsed energy projectile is a nonlethal weapon being made by the U.S. Military. The idea is to create a small explosion near a target using exploding plasma.

The explosion is made to temporarily incapacitate a target. Due to a focused but small delivery of electromagnetic radiation, it hurts a lot, but it allegedly leaves people alive. I’m all for it, if it works, but I find it hard to take something like “exploding plasma” lightly.

Of course, we haven’t found much to substantiate the existence of this weapon, unless you feel like watching some conspiracy theory YouTube videos, which are downright freak.

4. Hallucinogenic Artillery Rounds

Nerve gas is illegal, but nobody’s got problems with a little mushroom tea, do they? I could swear I’ve seen hallucinogenic artillery rounds, or something very much like them, in a spy novel.

These rounds were another non-lethal weapon, but they don’t attack the body per se. The general idea is to hit someone with a burst of psychoactive substances. This would attack the psyche and render the target useless in the field of combat.

It was scrapped, though, because the results were too inconsistent. If you want, you can read all about it here.

5. Eye Blinding Rifle

Now we’re really getting somewhere. The PHASR (personnel halting and stimulation response rifle) doesn’t kill you. It just shoots a series of super bright lasers straight into your eyes. The blindness is temporary, but the shame of getting hosed by what looks to be HD camera lasts forever.

Or, it would last forever, but blinding weapons have been banned by the UN since 1995. Quite a setback for the team who worked on the PHASR. Then again, going back to the drawing board is better than being convicted of a war crime.

Unless you’re an evil genius and want that kind of attention.

6. Vortex Ring Gun

Here’s one that’ll make the tabloids go nuts.

The vortex ring gun fired high energy rings of chemicals to shoot down enemy aircraft. Think of it as a giant compressed air cannon.

The gun has been in development since 1998, and has a predecessor that dates back as far as World War II. So far, however, we haven’t seen this gun pressed into active service. We’re not quite sure why, but perhaps the predecessor can indicate why that is.

The ‘whirlwind cannon’, as it was known, was reported to fail due to the altitudes and speeds of WWII-era aircraft. With the kind of aircraft we have today, I’m sure that problem is severely compounded.

But, if you’re the Big Bad Wolf, this might just be what you’ve been waiting for.

7. Pain Rays

Ah, the way of pain. This weapon uses what I call the ‘Emperor Palpatine’ method. The method is simple. Either they join you, or they writhe around on the floor in pain while they reconsider their decision.

The pain ray uses radio waves to heat up tissue and create a painful, but nonlethal burn. You can read a firsthand experience with the ray right here. The technology works, and is in use on vehicle-mounted chassis, but that’s not the problem.

Like I said, the technology works, but it is by no means cost-effective. The system takes sixteen hours to wind up before it can be used, and it uses a ton of power to operate. So, it guzzles fuel like nobody’s business.

To make matters worse, the system has greatly reduced effectiveness in environmental conditions like rain or snow. Basically, anytime visibility is reduced, the pain ray isn’t worth the gas it takes to operate.

Those problems are only technical, though. The pain ray was used in 2010, but was sent back. The reason? The fear of the weapon actually united the enemy combatants, who were able to use it for propaganda purposes.

8. Invisibility Cloaks

The best part about all of these inventions is how weird they all are.

All except this one, I mean. This one is more traditional. This one comes from nature.

Of course, it also comes from Lord of the Rings, so to speak. The invisibility cloak is a holy grail of defense tech. After all, if they can’t see you, then you have a distinct advantage.

We’ve reported on tech like this before with the LIGHT system and its Russian counterpart. Both of those projects, and many more like them, use the idea of bending light around an object. Bending light around something usually requires some kind of engineered material that can do so.

The idea has a lot of merit, it just hasn’t ever become true invisibility. Despite that, military tech has got pretty close, especially in the case of stealth fighters. Those have a special coating that makes them hard to detect and see. Sound familiar?

And now, the World!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our top 8 ray gun fails as much as we did.

I think what is most striking about this list is how close these inventions came to being a reality. Rather than being some crackpot idea, most of them had some pretty solid science behind them. Just, only in theory.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the classic, over-the-top villain. They tend to have more fun, overall, and they come up with elaborate, genius ways to foil the hero. Sure, they tend to lose in the end, but that’s what happens when you threaten to blow up the Earth.

At any rate, it warms my heart to see that there are real scientists making the stuff of Lex Luthor.

Did we miss any ray gun fails? Let us know in the comments below!

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William McKinney

William is an English teacher, a card carrying nerd, And he may run for president in 2020. #truefact #voteforedgy

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