US Army aims to arm soldiers with lasers in 2023
Service says it is "very close" to developing the technology while the Air Force pushes ahead with further trials
The prospect of developing laser weapons for soldiers on the battlefield is "very close", according to the US Army, which aims to deploy the weapons in 2023.
Addressing a House subcommittee, Mary J. Miller, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Research and Technology, said extensive tests were being carried out to ensure lasers could combat threats ranging from rockets and mortars to drones and cruise missiles.
"We're trying to make sure that we understand, before we offer it to a soldier, what it can do and that they understand its capabilities," she told the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
When asked how close the Army was to developing offensive and defensive directed-energy weapons, Ms Miller said they were "very close".
"What we need to do now is build trust with our operators so they understand what lasers can do. Lasers have been promised for an awful long time and they've never held up or delivered what was asked for.
"So the operators are quite rightfully sceptical, which is why you see the [armed] services taking the lasers out in operational environments and letting them be used by operators so they can understand what the capabilities are.
"While we're looking at the large capabilities that these [lasers] can provide, there will be steps along the way when we spin out lesser capable laser systems that can do good things on smaller platforms and that's something you'll see coming out relatively soon."
Raytheon, one of the leading firms developing the technology, is working on creating a laser for the US Marines that is small enough to be carried on a tactical ground vehicle.
The US AIr Force, meanwhile, has already begun trialling lasers.
Dr. David Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, told the committee the Air Force had "spun out lower-power lasers that give us a capability to protect our aircraft flying in theatre today".
"The Air Force is flying every day with lasers under its large aircraft, using them as an infrared countermeasure system ... As we get larger power outputs and better thermal management out of smaller package lasers, (we'll be) able to transition these to other aircraft besides our large transport aircraft.
"And as we build those powers, eventually (we'll) move from defensive capability to uisng that same laser to give us offensive capability as well."
He also said the Air Force was working with Special Operations Command to develop an offensive laser that would be fitted to AFSOC AC-130 gunships.
The AIr Force said in December that it aimed to put lasers on fighter jets by 2020.
Last summer, it began testing a high-powered laser cannon mounted on an armoured truck to clear air fields of unexploded bombs and booby-traps.
The US Navy has also experimented with the technology, with a laser fitted to the USS Ponce in 2014. US naval commanders believe the technology will enable them to shoot down drones or burn up small attacking speed boats.
Britain joined the laser arms race last year. The MOD said it was looking for defence firms to help build prototype machines “to enhance the UK’s understanding of the capability of a laser based weapon system”.