Redondo Beach, Calif: One of the world's largest defence contractors US giant, Northrop Grumman Corp. has said it has developed an electric laser that will generate enough power to shoot down hostile missiles and drones.
Though work has been progressing in laboratories around the world to develop such capabilities, generating such power is yet unheard of.
The announcement is also significant in that it would change the way militaries will respond to various kinds of threats from land, sea and air if powered with such capabilities.
"The laser has a mix of very unique traits of high-interest for the military," Dan Wildt, vice president of Northrop's directed energy systems program said. The beam can travel at the speed of light, offer ultra-high precision to limit collateral damage and engage a target instantly, he noted.
Los Angeles-based Northrop is one of two companies creating this kind of electric powered device with the other company also developing similar capabilities being Textron Inc.
According to Northrop the beam of light its laser generated was equivalent to 105 kilowatts -or 1,000 100-watt light bulbs focused on a small spot.
The US Army said it expects Textron to reach the same kind of performance later this year.
The laser project, which has been under development for the past six years, is a joint effort between the US Air Force, Navy and Army as the services seek alternative means to fuel weapons that can shoot down rockets, missiles, artillery and mortars.
So far, the most powerful weapons developed have used chemicals as their energy source, but this restricts ease of use. Electricity is being looked at as viable alternative. Electric lasers would also be more compact, light weight and mobile in the battlefield, said Wildt.
While the army is looking to integrate a laser weapon with a tactical ground vehicle, the navy is looking to equip it on ships to counter attacks by small swarming craft that carry explosives.
Wildt said one of the advantages of the device is that the military can set the laser to a particular level to meet the threat. "Threats vary, and so should the response," he said.
The Army will soon begin testing at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.