Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator ACTD) is a high-energy laser weapon system. In the field, it could be installed in a (large) aircraft in a matter of hours.
The megawatt (roughly) laser beam is 10 centimeters across, with a range of many miles. GlobalSecurity.org says it's got the heating power of a blowtorch. Hardly the sort of wallop that Han Solo's Millennium Falcon packed in "Star Wars," but it's still enough energy to be a serious weapon.
This laser cannon could save lives: on all sides.
The ability to focus a great deal of energy on a very small target from a great distance may reduce an advantage that outfits like Al Qaeda have had in the War on Terror.
Up to this point, their habit of hiding behind civilians, setting up operations in residential neighborhoods, has given them better protection than any armor. American forces, and coalition forces in general, do not want to hurt innocent people. "Collateral damage" may be acceptable in some cases, but it's something to be avoided.
When it's ready, this weapon system should be able to burn through a missile launcher and leave the car parked next to it untouched (apart from some singed paint, I suspect).
More about the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) and related projects:
- Fox News: "Boeing Testing Another Powerful Airborne Laser"
- Boeing: "Boeing Installs High-Energy Laser on Laser Gunship Aircraft"
- Boeing: "Missile Defense Systems / Airborne Laser Backgrounder"
- GlobalSecurity.org: "Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL)"