From Star Wars’ Death Star to Star Trek’s phaser, science fiction is littered with laser weaponry.
But high-energy cannons aren’t confined to the realm of fantasy. The US has been testing the tech for years, and now the UK is set to follow suit.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has just awarded a £30m contract to a group of European defence firms to develop a prototype laser weapon by 2019.
It’s expected to be able to identify and track targets at different distances, over land and water and in varied weather conditions.
The Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriet Baldwin, told the BBC that “truly ground-breaking projects like the Laser Directed Energy Weapon” would “keep this country ahead of the curve”.
A spokesperson for the MoD added that the technology hadn’t been designed to counter a specific threat. But it’s understood to be able to destroy drones, missiles and roadside bombs.
The cannon, which will be developed by a consortium of companies called UK Dragonfire, could come into service as soon as the mid-2020s. It will be demonstrated in 2019.
Back in 2014, the US Navy tested a devastating laser system onboard one of its warships. A YouTube video shows the laser firing beams at targets on boats several hundred metres away. It’s also capable of shooting drones out of the sky.
And in autumn 2015, the US Air Force announced that its fighter jets could be equipped with laser cannons by 2020.