Plasma Weapons

plasma weapons
Image from Steve Bowers

Plasma weaponry becomes practical with the advent of controlled nuclear fusion, and is distinguished from other high energy weapons by the use of fusion-grade fuel.

Although it packs tremendous punch in thermal and kinetic energy, the range of plasma weaponry is typically quite limited due to strong dispersal tendencies. In atmosphere, adaptive high energy lasers are required to generate a path and prevent energy dispersal along the flight path. Even so, electrostatic or reactive defenses can typically scatter the plasma envelope, limiting use to softer targets.

Primary energy release comes from megajoules of thermal and kinetic energy from contact with the plasma, with secondary laser impact and electrostatic discharges. Against soft targets, the tremendous heat transfer generates steam explosion of tissues and large electrostatic discharges in superconducting circuitry.

Breakthroughs in magnetic bottle technology permit the introduction of fusion weapons, which fire a bolt of plasma that undergoes thermonuclear fusion in-flight. This enormously amplifies the energy density, at the cost of higher energy requirements (both the input energy and firing velocity must be increased in order to prevent the bolt from prematurely detonating), and fusion weapons begin to replace other high energy weapons as the primary form of direct damage fire. At this point, fusion weapons technology mimics early development of kinetic weaponry, with the magnetic field configuration acting as the shell, and the fusing-plasma content acting as the warhead. Various combinations are developed for armor and field-penetration, plasma dispersion, and drive laser configuration.

Fusion weapons have the same energy release mechanisms as previous plasma weapons, but at orders of magnitude larger in scale.

The final advance in plasma weaponry comes with the use of magnetic monopoles. This enhances both the strength and compactness of the plasma magnetic envelope and the efficiency of the fusion process via the use of monopole catalyzed fusion. An advanced application of the ponderamotive effect compresses the monopole contained bolt to a critical density at the desired range.

At critical density, monopole-catalyzed fusion occurs, resulting in rapid release of the mass-energy in the plasma.

In atmosphere, primary energy release is thermonuclear-equivalent shock wave and heat release, with a secondary laser impact.

In vacuum, energy release is soft x-rays, with secondary laser impact.

Some versions add trace amounts of elements in the plasma or monopoles to generate specific effects (e.g. neutron or EMP production), similar to older style so-called "enhanced nuclear weapons".

Monopole-catalyzed fusion weapons have energy yields in the fractional kiloton to multi-megaton range.

The penultimate development of plasma weaponry, these monopole-catalyzed fusion weapons are often nicknamed hellbores, gehennaguns, or other such apocalyptic-sounding names.

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    A usually high-temperature gas consisting entirely of ions, instead of neutral atoms or molecules. Because of the high temperature, the atoms strike each other hard enough to keep at least the outer electrons knocked off. At very high temperatures - e.g. the cores of stars and in fusion reactors - self-perpetuating nuclear fusion occurs.
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Development Notes
Text by Adam Getchell

Initially published on 27 June 2006.