In a bid to gain an upper hand in sea and land-based combat, the US Navy has signed a contract for the purchase of high-energy lasers from Lockheed Martin. The service has invested $150m (£108m) for a pair of high-energy laser cannons, which have to be developed and delivered by 2020, according to a recent announcement by the US Department of Defense (DOD).
One of the two weapons will be developed for land-based application, while the other will be retrofitted on Arleigh Burke-class of guided missile destroyer (DDG 51 FLT IIA), Motherboard reported.
Typically, these warships are used for anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, and anti-surface missions and a high-energy laser weapon would make the whole thing even more destructive.
Lockheed has demonstrated the capabilities of its laser weapons in the past. Several videos have shown how the direct energy tech can be used to take down hostile drones without alerting them.
At current configuration, Lockheed's laser cannon draws 150kilowatt power for a single, deadly shot of beam. However, the Navy could get that upgraded to 300kilowatt to make the weapon good enough to take down incoming high-speed missiles. When installed, the cannons would be America's first field-ready laser weapons to come into action.
Laser weapons have been under research since the 1970s, particularly because of their ability to work without projectiles. Conventional land- or sea-based defence weapons solely depend on gunpowder, expensive missiles and shells, but in this case, a high-energy beam annihilates targets just as effectively and costs only a few dollars.
As part of the latest contract, the Navy has also kept additional options in place which, if exercised, could take the value of the whole deal up to $940m. This, as the report says, would be more than enough to buy at least 10 more cannons and making 10% of the Navy's current fleet laser-fire capable.
The purchase of high-power laser cannons comes as China continues to expand its military arsenal. Recently, a Chinese warship was spotted with an electromagnetic railgun or a weapon that uses a magnetic field to fire projectiles at a speed of around 7,000kmph. The weapon appeared very similar to the American railgun which has been tested on land but has still not been installed in any of its warships.
Here is a clip of Lockheed Martin's laser weapon taking down drones by causing loss of control and structural failure with mere 30kilowatt of power: