Lockheed Martin Athena laser weapon test
Lockheed Martin's latest laser weapon system Athena is capable of disabling the engine of a vehicle located over a mile awayLockheed Martin

Defence and aerospace firm Lockheed Martin has demonstrated a new laser weapon able to successfully disable the engine of a truck from over a mile away.

Sounding like something out of a science fiction movie, the Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) is a ground-based system that features a 30kW, single-mode fibre-optic laser that can be used to disarm targets in a non-lethal way.

The laser uses a technique called spectral beam combining, which takes multiple fiber laser modules and directs them at the same point to form a single, powerful beam, making it far more powerful than the 10kW lasers used in other systems.

During the demonstration, Athena was able to stop a truck by burning through the engine manifold, so that rather than causing the engine to explode, it simply just rendered it unable to work.

Athena is based on Lockheed Martin's existing Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) system, a portable 10kW fibre laser weapon launched in May 2014 that has proved effective in dealing with air and sea attacks by improvised rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and small boats.

A demonstration of how the portable 10kW laser system Adam is able to disable a small boat Lockheed Martin

The test scenario could be a bit different from a real-life combat situation, as the truck was stationery, placed on a test platform with its engine and drive train running.

In real life, vehicles packed with explosives are usually driven at high speed at the entrances of military bases, government buildings and guard towers, so perhaps use of the laser in this situation might not turn out to be non-lethal.

"Fiber-optic lasers are revolutionising directed energy systems," said Lockheed Martin's chief technology officer Keoki Jackson.

"We are investing in every component of the system – from the optics and beam control to the laser itself – to drive size, weight and power efficiencies.

"This test represents the next step to providing lightweight and rugged laser weapon systems for military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks."

Sometimes technology imitates popular culture, and Athena sounds a lot like the laser weapons we've seen in blockbuster movies for decades.

If you like lasers, check out the Death Star in Star Wars, Val Kilmer's popcorn-making laser in Real Genius, and the evil alien weapon in Laserblast:

Laserblast
Laserblast - a film about a teenager who becomes obsessed with an alien laser weaponTumblr

Laserblast (1978)

Death Star from Star Wars (1977)

Real Genius (1985)