Directed-energy gun maker receives more money

Published 20 August 2007

Critics charge that Ionatron’s ray-gun idea is a “pipe dream on a fast track to zero,” but the weapon system perseveres, and receives more research money from the military

You may recall the Luddites, a social movement of English textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested, often by destroying textile machines, against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood. It would not be accurate to say that we are witnessing the emergence of neo-Luddites, but still, we note that of all the futuristic technologies DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, is pursuing, one technolgoy — and the company behind it — have come in for special scorn. We are talking about a ray gun being designed by New York-based Ionatron. The sometimes grumpy Motley Fool called the company a “$220 million-dollar pipe dream on a fast track to zero.” The newsletter notes that the company had cut costs, which is good news, but also bad news, because the costs the company cut were from R&D, and when you try to develop a futuristic weapon system which relies on as-yet-unproven technology, maybe your R&D budget is not an area where you should look for savings. “With few sales, and no profits, Ionatron remains an R&D shop. Not just its future, but its very reason for existence, is tied to its research of directed energy weapons technology. As such, I consider cutting costs by cutting R&D spending nothing less than a mortgaging of Ionatron’s future.”

Business commentators such as the editors of the Motely and Pentagon insiders may not think highly of the directed-energy gun, but the weapon system perseveres, and manages to receive millions from the military. On Friday Ionatron announced a $2.09 million contract from the Army Research, Development and Engineering Center for “‘ANVILS,’ a technology development program for the application of directed energy technologies to counter the threat of vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices.” The company claims there will be more cash to come. “The Army has stated their interest in assuming the lead role in our LGE [laser-guided energy] development… and they have budgeted multiyear funding for ongoing Laser Induced Plasma Channel (“LIPC”) development.”