Laser weapons
Laser weapons in combat: science fiction fantasy comes closer

Senior US Navy officials have claimed that fighting ships could be armed with laser gun technology within four years.

The Office of Naval Research (ONS) has suggested that a fully operational prototype of a laser should be available within two years and will push for navy chiefs to buy it.

Roger McGiness, who is working on the technology for the ONS, told Wired: "The contract will probably have options through four years but depending on which laser source the vendors pick, we may be able to demo something after two years.

"Our hope afterwards is to move to acquisition."

Laser weaponry took a step forward last year when scientists burnt through a decommissioned destroyer's fuel tank with a 14kw beam of light (the free electron laser, which uses magnets). Scientists are scaling up to a 100kw beam, the so-called "solid state laser" which focuses light through a crystal or optical fibres, and could burn through 20ft of steel in less than a second.

Solid-state lasers are easier to mount on warships, said Mike Deitchman, who oversees future weapons development at the ONS.

"The solid-state laser will still deal with many asymmetric threats [unevenly matched opponents], but not the most hardened, most challenging threats," he added.

Deitchman also said that although the Navy has not made a formal bid, it supports the research.

Research "was a decision by the Office of Naval Research, approved and supported by senior Navy leadership," said Deitchman.