The military commonly uses lasers to mark a target, guide weapons and for missile defence. But using them against enemy troops isn’t new.
It was recently revealed that Royal Navy deployed laser weapons as far back as 1982 to dazzle and disorientate Argentinean pilots during the Falklands war, though they were never used in action.
Known as "dazzlers", these low-powered lasers cause no long-term damage and are still used for crowd control and to deter pirate attacks. But until recently, lasers haven’t been powerful enough to destroy vehicles, aircraft and vessels.
One programme set to change this is the US Navy’s Laser Weapon Systems, known as LaWS.
During a demonstration in 2010, the navy combined a solid state laser with the Raytheon Phalanx weapons system to shoot down four target drones installed on the testbed ship, USS Ponce.
In a navy video you can see the drones bursting into flames in mid-flight, and tumbling into the sea. LaWS could be deployed aboard US Navy ships as soon as next year.
Although navy ships can carry large, powerful lasers, to use them on land, they have to be light and small enough to fit on military trucks.
So the Pentagon has asked defence giants to demonstrate their most powerful and compact lasers for its Robust Electric Laser Initiative programme, or RELI.
Boeing recently claimed it exceeded RELI requirements with a demonstration of its thin disc laser system, which concentrates commercial sold-state lasers into a single super-bright 30kW beam.
This RELI programme could see US troops zapping the enemy from an Oshkosh military truck by 2017. No-one saw that coming.
As we’ve seen, lasers have been used in military applications for decades, and will be used as a powerful weapon in just a few years. Who know what these formidable tools will be capable of in decades to come.
For more on futuristic weapons, join us next time when Latest In Defence will be reporting from the world’s largest defence and security expo, DSEI, in London.
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