With the new Donald Trump administration firmly installed and planning a military buildup, the United States Air Force has started testing laser cannons again. The Air Force just announced that it would be equipping AC-130 gunships for testing. The laser-equipped aircraft could be a game changer for aerial combat. Eventually the military hopes to miniaturize lasers enough so that they can be installed on fighter jets such as the F-15, F-16, and the new F-35.

The advantages of a working laser cannon are evident on even cursory examination. Unlike missiles, laser bursts travel at the speed of light.

If a target is locked and the laser fired it will be killed. No aircraft will be able to evade a laser. Lasers will also have greater range than cannons; they can destroy targets at a great distance. A single gallon of aviation fuel will allow a laser gun to fire thousands of shots.

Laser equipped aircraft can also be used as a weapon for missile defense, a great concern with rogue states such as Iran and North Korea developing missiles that can deliver an atomic warhead on the American homeland. A few laser-equipped aircraft patrolling near countries that might decide to rain nuclear fire on the United States would serve nicely as a layer of defense.

Initially, the lasers being installed on the AC-130s will be of the low-wattage variety, to be used as a prototype.

Buy researchers are confident that the Air Force will be able to deploy gunships equipped with lasers powerful enough to kill a target.

Laser equipped aircraft can hit targets on the ground as well. The sort of targets that can be killed by a laser would include radar installations, unarmored trucks, and unhardened buildings such as warehouses and fuel depots.

Science fiction shows like “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica” have featured fighter craft equipped with beam weapons. The real life versions of Luke Skywalker and Lt. Starbuck may soon take to the skies and will be unchallenged by any opponents not similarly equipped with lasers. But, of course, enemies will soon adopt the technology as well, which means that measures have to be taken to counter laser cannon in due course.