Lockheed Martin announced on Monday that it has bagged a $26.3-million contract from the US Air Force to develop a high-energy laser weapon for US fighter jets.
According to a Lockheed Martin press statement, the US Air Force Research Lab plans to test the laser on a fighter jet by 2021.
The deal would form part of AFRL's Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator programme, which comprises three subsystems - the beam-control system that directs the laser onto to the target, the pod that powers and cools the laser, and the actual laser.
According to the UPI, the laser would be developed by Lockheed while Northrop Grumman will develop the beam-control system and Boeing will develop the pod.
The three, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed and Boeing are not only amongst the largest defence contractors in the US but are also the largest political donors.
According to commentators, it is not clear at the time how the laser will be used, but according to Lockheed spokesperson Kate Scruggs who spoke to Business Insider, "the only thing that's been said publicly is that it will be used for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons."
According to Popular Mechanics, the aircraft most likely to be armed with the laser, assuming it's successfully tested and produced, will be older fighters jets that are more vulnerable in the air - such as the F-15C, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
According to commentators, the AFRL contract forms part of its Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD, programme, aimed to test capabilities of a fighter jet that uses lasers to defend itself against missiles launched from the air or ground.
Meanwhile AFRL and DARPA are also planning airborne tests of a competing, non-fibre laser system. Hellads, as the compact and lightweight electric laser is called, was developed by General Atomics.