BAE has devised a Transformer system allowing planes to join up and separate in midair.BAE Systems

British defence company BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence have unveiled a range of stunning innovations which look set to transform the future of war.

Drones which are built aboard planes using 3D printers, jets which "heal" themselves as they fly, laser guns, and "Transformer" planes which join to form one large aircraft and separate again in mid-air are all in development.

Laser gun
USS Ponce will be deployed with laser gunsOffice of Naval Research

Of all the innovations, laser guns are closest to becoming operational.

Concentrated beams of energy are aimed at aircraft or missiles and can be fired at the speed of light to destroy or deflect the target.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed it is involved in researching the weapons and the US navy warship USS Ponce will have a laser weapon fitted this summer.

Once assembled, laser guns can be far more destructive than traditional missiles and at a fraction of the cost, although rain, dust or turbulence can hamper their use.

Rail guns – guns which use electromagnetic force to fire solid missiles at six or seven times the speed of sound – are also close to being deployed, but their potential is limited due to the prohibitive amount of electricity required to fire them.

BAE has developed a system allowing planes to "heal" in flightBAE Systems

Rapid developments with 3D printing have already allowed BAE engineers to print metal parts for a plane aboard a Tornado fighter, and it has released a video showing a helicopter drone being printed aboard a plane could be used to rescue civilians from a volcano.

The ability to assemble drones to suit particular circumstances would be invaluable to military commanders.

"You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things," says BAE's Mike Murray. "You can manufacture the products and whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers."

The "Survivor" system is a self-healing plane which uses carbon nanotubes containing adhesive fluids which can be injected swiftly into any holes created by enemy fire and quickly "set", allowing the plane to fly home.

Perhaps most amazing of all, the BAE Transformer comprises a number of small, nimble aircraft which join together to form one large plane, increasing their overall range and saving fuel.

On reaching their destination the planes detach, go to "work", then reassemble to fly home.

For this to be possible BAE devised a unique plastic which is activated by signals to be either sticky or non-sticky, in the same way a gecko's toes allow it to stick to walls and ceilings.

Whether any of the stunning new innovations will be of use in a non-military scenario is another matter, though self-healing phones are in the pipeline.