We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is an Electrolaser?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

An electrolaser is a hybrid optical/electrical directed-energy weapon. It functions by ionizing a corridor of air using laser-induced blooming, then sending an electric current at a target through the conductive channel. This is similar to the way that a lightning discharge works.

At least two defense contracting companies have created handheld electrolaser weapons — Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems of Anderson, Indiana, and Ionatron of Tucson, Arizona. Ionatron markets their proprietary Laser-Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) technology as "man-made lightning" and wants it to "replace guns as the weapon of choice in close-range defense". An electrolaser may be lethal or non-lethal depending on the voltage used.

Normally, blooming is the bane of laser defense technology - at power densities over about a megajoule per square centimeter, a laser strips electrons from the nuclei of air molecules, creating a plasma and redirecting energy away from the main beam. A number of strategies have been devised in attempts to work around this, including the use of large mirrors to project a focus on the target or laser pulses so short that blooming doesn't have time to occur. The electrolaser is the only directed-energy weapon that takes advantage of blooming rather than working against it.

The plasma region created by laser-induced blooming can be made highly conductive if enough electrons are knocked free from their atomic orbits. This provides the perfect conduit to run a current through to a target at moderate range. Using step-up transformers, an electrolaser system creates a high-voltage, low-amperage alternating current to feed into the plasma corridor. To create a complete circuit, there must be a way to make the current loop back around, which can be done through either an auxiliary laser beam or a sufficiently powerful ground current. Depending on its size and application, an electrolaser weapon may use a electromotive force somewhere between a thousand and a billion volts.

The electrolaser is one of several directed-energy weapons that certain military leaders and scientists have stated will be the inevitable next step in warfare. Electrolaser technology would be particularly useful for disabling electronics without the need to fire a shot. Pacifists hope that the non-lethal nature of some electrolaser systems will minimize casualties in conflicts of the future.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon341873 — On Jul 15, 2013

There are basically two types of damage: laser damage and electric damage, hence the name electrolaser. To protect yourself from it you need two things: a mirror and an electrical insulator.

By anon126958 — On Nov 14, 2010

What it would take to protect you depends on the power of the weapon. These handheld weapons should be relatively weak, while the ship-mounted designs that have been in development over the years could easily vaporize tanks, destroy buildings, etc.

To protect against a big one, you'd need something massive that could absorb more energy than the electrolaser could dish out, faster than it could dish it out. Anything less would result in electrocution or incineration. From the demos of medium-sized electrolasers I've seen, metal has a tendency to liquefy on contact and not conduct much of the electricity away.

By anon14358 — On Jun 15, 2008

Depends a great deal on voltage and duration. 16 Joules is all it takes to kill via electrocution, which is only about maybe 500 uF at 300v. Don't know coulumbs. In amps, ~150mA through the heart does it.

By Reaver — On Jul 09, 2007

Insulation like rubber or plastic may help you. A more sure-fire method would be to surround yourself with metal. Yes I know this sounds crazy but it works- metal has a much lower resistance so the current would flow around you to ground (or the axillary laser beam)- it's called a Faraday cage. Magnetic fields are also good. The shielding depends to a large extent on the settings of the weapon. Does anyone know how long this would take to kill you?

By anon2034 — On Jun 24, 2007

How can a person protect themselves from getting shocked by an electrolaser? What type of insulating material would be required?

By Reaver — On Jun 19, 2007

Can an electrolaser physically damage buildings etc (such as by exerting a force on them), or can it only deliver voltage?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.