Ever since the laser was first invented, military planners have dreamed of using it as a weapon of war. As early as the 1980s, laser weapons deployed in space were envisioned as part of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative to shoot down incoming nuclear armed ICBMs. Finally, Science fiction is preparing to become science fact as all branches of the United States military are testing laser weapons with a view of deploying them with combat units in the 2020s. Lasers will give American soldiers, sailors, and airmen unprecedented power to defend against and to strike back at an enemy.

Laser weapons are envisioned as an anti-air and artillery defense tool.

The Army would have batteries of laser cannons that would attack aircraft, incoming missiles, and even artillery shells, burning them down before they could prove a threat to ground combat units. The United States Navy is already testing a ship deployed laser cannon on board the USS Ponce to fight against aircraft, missiles, or even speed boats favored by terrorists. The Air Force has a number of laser weapons that have flown on aircraft, the goal being to develop one that is light enough and powerful enough to mount on a fighter jet. A helicopter mounted laser would defend against shoulder-fired missiles.

Laser weapons have a number of advantages over more conventional weapons. They cost less per shot. They have greater range than cannon, unlimited for line of sight. They are resistant to countermeasures.

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Once the laser weapon is locked on, the target is as good as destroyed.

One concept of a laser weapon is a “laser shield” that would be mounted in a 360-degree rotating turret on an aircraft. The idea is that it would automatically destroy anything that came within a particular range, be it an enemy aircraft or missile. The shield would be an ideal enhancement for a bomber tasked with penetrating enemy air defenses and delivering ordinance on a hardened target. The shield would be designed to defeat even the most sophisticated air defense system, rendering it obsolete.

In short, the laser is about to become the greatest advance in weaponry since gunpowder.