After decades of being confined to experimental prototypes and Star Wars movies, laser weapons today are on the verge of entering wide-scale service, whether in the hands of infantry, mounted on trucks, armored vehicles, warships and even Air Force fighters.
Lasers focus beams of light to produce intense heat. They have virtually inexhaustible “ammunition” and are very cheap per shot compared to a missile or even a cannon shell. They are also extremely quick and precise, though they tend to lose coherence over distance. The more powerful the laser, the further it can go and the quicker it burns through its target—but the larger its power supply and cooling system have to be.
The Army hopes that ground-based lasers will provide an effective and cost-efficient means to defend against two major new threats which threaten to overwhelm existing air defenses: drones and surface-skimming cruise missiles. Both are proliferating rapidly around the globe, and both were employed in a recent attack that knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s daily oil production—despite the facilities being covered by both short- and long-range air defense systems.