Preliminary designs for the US Navy’s free electron laser (FEL) weapon system have been successfully completed by Boeing at its facility in Arlington, Virginia.

The FEL generates an intense laser light emission, which can disable or destroy targets, when a beam of high-energy electrons are passed through a series of powerful magnetic fields.

Boeing Directed Energy Systems vice-president Gary Fitzmire said the FEL would use a ship’s electrical power to create, in effect, unlimited ammunition and provide the ultra-precise, speed-of-light capability required to defend naval forces against hyper-velocity cruise missiles.

“The successful completion of this preliminary design review is an important milestone in developing a weapon system that will transform naval warfare,” he said.

Boeing received a $169m contract from the Office of Naval Research to develop FEL.

The company expects to receive additional task orders from the navy to complete the FEL design and build and operate a laboratory demonstrator.

Boeing is developing the electron laser programme in cooperation with US Department of Energy laboratories, academia and industry partners.