They are guns without bullets, cannons without shells.
Laser weapons, once the stuff of science fiction, are becoming practical – bringing militaries the ability to defend against attacks without having to make, transport or store munitions. The shots are cheap – as little as a dollar each – and the ammunition never runs out as long as there is electrical power.
“We’re at the tipping point where, no kidding, we can take this from aspirational – from lab models – to something we can field and use,” said Rick Hunt, vice president for Navy/Marine Operations at Raytheon. “People are hitting the ‘I Believe’ button.”
Raytheon, which built the first working laser in 1960, is leading the way, developing a laser for the U.S. Marines that is small enough and rugged enough to be carried on a tactical ground vehicle. In 2010, it demonstrated a laser weapon that shot four target drones out of the sky. Raytheon is one of several defense contractors chosen by the Office of Naval Research to develop a high-powered laser weapon capable of hitting fast-moving targets at a distance under the Ground Based Air Defense Directed Energy On the Move program.