OPEN YOUR EYES: StrategyPage has a short post on North Korea using the Chinese ZM-87 anti-personel laser weapon to illuminate a couple US choppers flying two miles south of the DMZ. (When you shoot something with a laser you "illuminate" it.) These lasers are designed to overload mechanical optical sensors and to blind humans, and so they're particularly effective when used against aircraft where even a brief loss of vision can have catastrophic results.

Interestingly, Protocol IV of the "1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects" (yes, that's the actual name) prohibits "laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices", and this would appear to include just about every laser weapon system. Some laser systems that are designed to be used for targeting and navigation would presumably not be covered, since they aren't weapon systems at all. The protocol doesn't cover "blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems".

It's basically impossible to design a laser weapon that is powerful enough to do damage to a target but that doesn't, as a primary or secondary effect, also have a very high chance of blinding a human that it is aimed at. Even range-finding lasers can cause permanent eye damage. Everyone knows not to aim $5 laser pointers into their eyes.

The whole thing seems silly to me. I'd rather be shot with a laser and blinded than shot with a rifle and killed, wouldn't you? Some people seem to think that "scientists" will be able to design a "completely eye-safe battlefield laser system" but that's absurd. That's like trying to design an eye-safe bullet. Lasers just don't fall into the same horrible category as nerve gas and small pox (or even land mines) in my mind. Yes, it would suck to be blinded by a laser weapon, but it would also suck to get shot with a rifle bullet or an artillery shell.



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