Directed-energy weapons like lasers have been in development for decades, but are they ready for widespread deployment? Future evolutions of high-energy laser and directed-energy weapons in general still face a number of challenges, including keeping up with and incorporating fast-changing technologies in computing, power, cooling, and materials, and making what is still technology dominated by commercial development military-capable.
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While the US Government shutdown in 2013 greatly disrupted spending on military lasers (which only partially corrected in 2014), 2015 was essentially back to business as usual. Lasers are playing a much larger role within the military. Gone are the grandiose “Star Wars” weapons that never reached their goal of destroying distant intercontinental ballistic missiles. Instead, laser-directed weapons are now used to neutralize the close-range threat of a small plane or drone attacking an aircraft carrier or even land-based targets.Related: U.S. military high-energy laser development hindered by ITAR regulations
Related: Lockheed Martin demonstrates 30 kW weapons-grade fiber laser
In September 2015 Northrop Grumman received a $35M contract to produce IR countermeasure systems for light aircraft for the first time using quantum cascade lasers (QCLs). Future contracts for just these systems could well exceed $1.5B over the next five years.Related: Laser Countermeasures: Scaling down mid-IR laser countermeasures for smaller aircraft