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TL;DR $600 million mechanically reliable dual-purpose short-to-medium-ranged death ray small enough to mount on technicals enters the arms market 20 minutes into the future. What would war look like then?

20 minutes in the future, Republic of Ruritania revealed their newest air-defense system: the Oxybelas air defense system, according to them, a weapon that will change the face of warfare.

The Oxybelas is a synchrotron particle accelerator and power source (whose origin is jealously guarded by the Ruritanian government) that is small enough to be fitted onto a pickup truck, and yet capable of accelerating a packet of heavy ions to speeds of somewhere around 0.9c, leaving the target with very little warning. Each ion packet, upon striking a target, releases somewhere around 150 megajoules of energy.

The Oxybelas is cooled with an advanced spin-cooling mechanism that cycles liquid nitrogen through the superconductive magnets, enabling a healthy sustained ROF of 6 rounds per minute. The beam itself has an effective range of 30 km before blooming starts to severely degrade performance.

Reliability testing in almost all possible environments have indicated that the Oxybelas air defense system is, curiously enough, as solidly built and mechanically reliable as any current-generation air-defense gun system despite the integration of such radical technology.

The Oxybelas also comes with an integrated phased-array radar, capable of tracking up to 20 targets simultaneously at a range of 40 kilometers. Of course, the Oxybelas is also capable of receiving information from more sophisticated sensors through datalinks, enabling it to fire at any ground, sea, and air targets that the sensors can track.

Of course, such a system has its limitations: namely the per-unit price tag of $600 million.

QUESTION

How would the deployment of such a weapon with its price tag 20 minutes into the future affect 21st Century Warfare as we know it?

EDIT

Completely forgot about the effects of blooming at short ranges. Air within first 30 km of the beam's path is ionized and pushed out of the way with a "pathfinding" laser before the beam is actually fired.

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  • $\begingroup$ If they are planning to use that within the atmosphere, maybe they want to read this XKCD first. But, since they are shooting ion packs, expect a little lower results. $\endgroup$ – JordiVilaplana May 6 '16 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ Well actually, I imagined this XKCD $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek May 6 '16 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ @JordiVilaplana The energy is actually only around 150 MJ. And I need to edit something. $\endgroup$ – Zhehao Chen May 6 '16 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ $600 million? What a bargain! $\endgroup$ – Scott Downey May 6 '16 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottDowney It has a range of only 30 km, strictly tactical wepaon. And that is only a tad cheaper than a B-2. $\endgroup$ – Zhehao Chen May 6 '16 at 11:14
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Deathray

It's a high range, high damage, line of sight weapon and cheap as chips.

600 million is nothing for a weapon this effective. The US government is planning to spend 1 Trillion on F35s (that's a press generated number so take with a pinch of salt). A single F35 aircraft clocks in at about 100 million.

As a line of sight weapon it's largely useless against ships and ground troops.

As an air defense weapon it's only as good as the radar tracking system is at spotting stealth aircraft.

War is going to look largely the same. Satellites and intelligence will initially be used to identify targets, which will then be hit from over the horizon by low flying cruise missiles. Your new guns will probably be taken out by missiles which cost about half as much per unit as they do.

Then the drones will take over your airspace, hitting anything that looks a bit military without risking any personnel. They'll already have special forces on the ground, probably for a while before you knew you were going to be hit. Then the tanks will roll in.

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As a movable defense unit, this weapon will not be all that effective as Separatrix pointed out. To be able to view an ant from 30km away, you would need to be about 35 meters higher. The fastest cruise missile travels at about 2.8-3 mach. If your weapon would be able to fire at the missile, it would have a 30 second window to do so. In this time, it needs to detect the missile, turn to face the missile, then shoot. If your weapon is capable of turning this quickly, and aligning itself that precise in such a small amount of time, it must hit its first shot. Missing that shot, and having to wait 10 seconds, is likely the end of our weapon.

It has one advantage over other weapons, and that is that it comes with a power source, and as such can be completely self-contained, for years, without needing resupplies. In other words: If it is light enough, we may be able to use it offensively on an aircraft, or even in Low Earth Orbit. Unlike missiles, our death ray is not easily misdirected or countered with a different rocket. It can be used to take out specific targets, although I am not sure how effective this weapon would be leveling a building.

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  • $\begingroup$ 150 MJ is about 35 kilograms of TNT. More than enough for demolishing buildings and slagging tanks. The biggest tank guns (140 mm smoothbores) can squeeze out 17 MJ at the muzzle. $\endgroup$ – Zhehao Chen May 6 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ My biggest concern is that the death beam will poke a reasonably sized hole into the building, but the force is applied so fast that the surrounding material does not have time to experience that force before the contact area crumbles. More or less like the experiment where you have 2 identical ropes, apply sudden force to one, while applying slow force to the other. One will break at the bottom, one will break at the top. $\endgroup$ – Sumurai8 May 6 '16 at 18:28
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Dream Weapon For Terrorists And ISISSY

A pickup-truck mounted weapon with line of sight range would be the dream weapon for isissy, taliban and all other such radical organizations. Beside terrorist organizations, Hezbollah would also be highly interested in purchasing this weapon as it could help them to come at par with israili aggression.

All this would imply that while international warfare wouldn't change much, but anti-terrorism and internal security of a country would have to be upgraded a lot to cope up with this monstrous threat.

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This makes the zombie of President Reagan jump with joy, because here is an effective anti-ballistic missile system. This thing depolyed in enough numbers will create an effective shield against both submarine and land based ICBMs. Deployed in space as well, where you have no scattering, this thing can play sharpshooter in just the way Reagan envisioned SDI. This nullifies two out of three branches of the nuclear triad.

The problem is just that though... 2 of 3. The strategic airforces still pack a punch, especially with stealthy cruise missiles. So what you get is a situation where the threat of nuclear annihilation is severely diminished, but not (!) eliminated. This may tempt someone to gamble. Hence it is a destabilising factor in the nuclear stalemate.

This increases the risk of nuclear stockpiling, a new arms race and nuclear war.

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