With the new Star Wars movie having finally been unleashed upon the world, this is the perfect time to be talking out the science fiction technology that’s quickly making its way into the real world. One such technology is lasers, which the United States military has been especially interested in these past few years. It’s so interested, that the Air Force wants to equip F-15 fighter jets with laser weapons within the next four years. The possibility of laser-based shields is also being explored, which is somehow even more awesome.
The invention of guns took warfare to a whole new level. Later, airplanes radically changed it again. Now, experts say another big shift is coming, led by energy weapons, including lasers. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, said it’s on track to demonstrate a working laser weapon on a fighter jet by 2020. “It really is a national tipping point,” said Kelly Hammett, chief engineer for the AFRL’s directed energy directorate. “We see the technology evolving and maturing to the stage where it really can be used.” Arming larger planes with laser weapons has been possible for years. But the more difficult challenge is to create lasers small, accurate and powerful enough for fighter jets, Hammett said. The g-forces and vibrations of near supersonic speeds make that tough. Hammett said he thinks those hurdles can be overcome within five years. The AFRL is also working on another idea that sounds like something from “Star Trek”: You might call it a defensive laser shield — as in, “Shields up, Mr. Sulu.” Here’s how it would work: A 360-degree laser bubble would surround a U.S. warplane. That bubble would disable or destroy anything that comes inside, like a missile or another aircraft.