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The CP family of craft mounted beam weapons are derived from alien plasma technology. Originally retrofitted alien weapons and direct copies, starting with the CP-2 UNETCO began to manufacture plasma cannons with a combination of range and power that most suited human combat operations. The CP-3 is the most modern large scale plasma weapon in the X-COM arsenal, offering extreme long range interception, virtually instantaneous transmission time to target, high reliability and impressive power. The only major drawback is its use of Elerium-115 (which can not be manufactured at present; it can only be salvaged from alien craft or installations). For this reason, most regional Commanders only authorize the use of plasma cannons on high priority targets (Abductors, Terror Ships, Battleships, Supply Ships).

The CP-3 operates through the use of Elerium-115 annihilation. This exotic isotope, under certain conditions, releases small quantities of anti-matter, a large degree of waste heat, and gravity waves. Depending on the reactor, the ratio of byproducts produced can be controlled; in a plasma weapon virtually no gravity waves are released. Rather, large amounts of waste heat are used to superheat a thin helix of plasma, via Ionic Cyclotron Resonance. Packaged inside the innermost concentric magnetic "plasma" bubble, an aggregate of anti-protons is channeled from the reactor. The highly excited "plasma beam" is then accelerated and projected towards a target. In larger and more powerful plasma cannons, a higher rate of acceleration can be achieved. The CP-3 has an average muzzle velocity of 220 kilometers per second (compared to 11 kps for a plasma pistol). Only the plasma cannons mounted on alien Battleships are marginally more powerful.

While the beam dissipates very quickly in an atmosphere, giving it only an effective range of 50 to 60 kilometers, it has greater speed and an almost unlimited range in the vacuum of space. In that environment, targeting and hitting a maneuvering ship becomes the major difficulty, limiting the beam to an effective range (given a small and evasive target) of only 900 to 1000 kilometers. On impact with a target, the plasma sphere disintegrates and interacts with the antimatter core. The combination of already superheated plasma, the matter-antimatter annihilation, and the high speed collision all combine to do extensive damage.

As with the CL-3 Laser Cannon, once within range of a target, an illumination laser is used to determine range, speed and bearing as well as provide lock on. Following deactivation of the weapon safety, the laser designator takes over for the radar system, and automatically adjusts the aim of the plasma cannon and fires given a high hit percentage. This means that the human pilot can concentrate on navigation and evasive maneuvers, while the weapons automatically track and engage. A higher degree of accuracy is achieved using this system than is otherwise possible when reliant entirely on human reaction speeds.

When a CP-3 Fenrisulven's automatic targeting is activated, X-COM pilots use the brevity code "Beam Active" in radio communication, to announce the activation of beam-based automatic targeting and engagement.

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