The US Military's Saber 203 multi-purpose laser illuminator

Man-Portable Laser Dazzlers
Tech Level: 10
Vehicle-Mount Laser Dazzler
Tech Level: 10
Laser Dazzler Grenade
Tech Level: 11

These devices are also sometimes called laser blinders and are referred to in modern military jargon as "electro optical" weapons.

Tech Level: 10
SaberShot's compact "photonic disruptor" laser dazzler

Today a "laser blinder" can be a euphemism for a device that can scramble police speed guns, but in the early 1990s, it referred to a far more terrifying military weapon being developed at the time by the US and other countries. Its development was arrested mostly due to international outcry that use of military dazzlers would be extremely cruel and inhumane, and the weapons were condemned both by the International Red Cross and the United Nations. However, as late as 1995 China was cited to still be developing and selling blinding laser weapons such as the AM-87 Neodymium Laser Blinder, and such weapons may already be undergoing second or third generation development there. Also, many nations, including the US, are developing laser weapons whose secondary effects may cause blindness, as the UN conference forbids only dedicated-purpose dazzler weapons. For example, the US Military’s Saber 203, a rifle-mount "laser illuminator," is designed primarily as a laser designator, range finder, and anti-optical sensor measure, but can also easily be used as a dazzler as well.

Laser dazzlers started out somewhat simply as a form of non-lethal crowd control and tactical area denial. The idea was to scan a laser quickly over a crowd, using a low-powered beam to "dazzle" the people into temporary blindness. Unlike other types of laser weapons, the beam would not be tightly focused, in order to hit as large an area as practical, but would still have enough energy density to burn enough of the retina to cause vision loss.

Using the blinder gun rifle-like to target each human target’s eyes was considered impractical, both for crowd-control and battlefield use. What was needed was to play the beam quickly over a wide enough area to hit many potential targets near-simultaneously. This was solved through several methods. One was to use a focusing prism that rapidly moved or rotated on the end of the beam projector. Another was to use a large concave mirror, onto which the focused laser beam was quickly played across and reflected at the targets. Both methods allowed the weapon to cover a wide cone-like area in a fraction of a second, potentially blinding dozens of victims with every pull of the trigger.

Laser dazzlers also had another insidious innovation; by operating in the near-infrared spectrum, which the eye is transparent to but which does not register as light, dazzler weapons can do their damage without invoking the blink-reaction that normally protects the eye.

Dazzlers also have the added advantage of being able to blind enemy visual sensors, including those on fighting vehicles, artillery, and missile emplacements. The US military has two prototype anti-sensor laser blinders in development, the Dazer and the Cobra. Both are static lasers meant primarily to detect and neutralize enemy optical and electro-optical sensors for various weapons systems. As such they are designed for pinpoint fire mode as opposed to the scanning fire mode used for "crowd control" laser blinders.

The big problem that made laser dazzlers such political plutonium before they were ever even deployed is that difference in the amount of energy needed to temporarily blind and permanently blind a target is a very thin and not easily defined line. For a long time, any laser that was capable of temporarily blinding a target in one instance could very easily permanently blind one in another, depending on many variables such as atmospheric conditions, range, orientation of the target, length of exposure, frequency, beam intensity, and more. These problems could not be easily solved, and laser blinders fell out of favor as a form of personnel neutralization and began to be looked upon more for weapon sensor neutralization.

This may be changing, however. Very recently the US military and some law enforcement agencies have begun experimenting with much more compact dazzler weapons, such as the Sabershot "photonic disruptor", which are basically souped-up green laser pointers designed to act as blinders. These new weapons seem to have much more precisely attuned frequencies and power output, and many are deemed "eye safe" at the gun aperture, mitigating permanent eye damage in most circumstances.

Laser blinders used on a battlefield could have a very devastating effect psychologically on the troops on the receiving end of these weapons. The prospect of being blinded in a high-stress situation such as combat can easily destroy even the most robust morale.

Almost all near-infrared and visible light laser weapons mentioned in other articles on Orbital Vector can be used secondarily as laser blinders, either by reflection or diffraction on targets that it hits, or by powering down the beam.

Tech Level: 10

Scanning laser blinders, when first conceived, were originally intended to be used in large vehicle-mounted form for wide-scale crowd control. They probably would have been engineered to fit standard weapon mounts on vehicles such as Humvees with minimal fuss, and would have been attended to by a crew of at least two personnel--one to aim and operate the weapon, and the other to monitor its systems via laptop.

Vehicle-mounted dazzlers, because they would be able to supply more potent power sources, would likely have much more range and induce much stronger retinal burns than man-portable versions, pretty much ensuring permanent blindness in unprotected targets. For crowd control, just their presence would have an almost overpowering affect on the morale of mobs they would be trained on. Once the technology became widely known, even the simple sight of a dazzler vehicle weapon would make even the most viciously fanatic rioter think twice about continuing.

Vehicles using dazzler mounts would also likely employ a high-definition sound system, in order to generate loud noises to draw potential targets’ gazes toward the vehicle prior to firing.

Because of the political fallout from using such horrific weapons, only the most ruthless regimes and groups would use vehicle-sized dazzlers on human targets. Tactical dazzlers may instead be used much more prevalently in battlefield conditions to attempt to disrupt the visual sensors on enemy emplacements and vehicles. More advanced, variable-frequency blinders could also be deployed against aerial targets aircraft pilots, UAV drones, and perhaps even optically-targeted missiles.

Tech Level: 11

Though these would not actually be explosives, they would be handled and deployed very similarly to modern hand grenades.

The grenade would consist of a small, transparent sphere made of high-impact-resistance plastic. In the sphere would be an array of small but tightly focused lasers gimbaled and levered so they can be rotated and tilted to point at any one point in the sphere. Think of a number of small, high-powered laser pointers spinning freely in a baseball-sized sphere.

When activated, after a variable delay, the dazzler grenade would play its lasers quickly through every point of the sphere in rapid succession just like a scanning laser dazzler with 360 degree coverage capability. It could also deploy a loud "thumper" or noise generator to draw eyes toward it just before it activated. Because it would rely on small compact batteries, it would not have the range of a man-portable laser blinder, and probably wouldn’t affect targets beyond ten meters or so.

Its coverage would not be quite one hundred percent, as seals in the plastic covering, the activator switch, and input ports for recharge and programming would be necessary. But it can be recovered, recharged, and reused any number of times.

A dazzler grenade would be most effectively employed in small enclosed environments, making them well suited for urban combat and the like.


Article added 12/06