While “laser beams” have long been a trope of both science fiction and Austin Powers movies, they’ve often been lacking in the real world. However, the US Defense Department has recently made a $17 million investment in high-energy lasers with the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems, and provide forces on the ground with less costly options on the battlefield. While the US can already use traditional weapons to take out threats and shoot down rockets, it’s a costly business. High-energy lasers and microwave systems are part of a shift to weapons with endless ammunition and an ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time. The announcement was made by Senate Armed Services Committee member and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, a longtime supporter of directed energy research with a degree in engineering.
However, Boeing has already been working on high-energy laser and microwaves systems for a while. One effort, costing $1 billion, involved outfitting a 747 with an extremely complex laser cannon apparatus to shoot down missiles. Yet with the exponential growth of technological advances in the past 20 years, high-powered laser weapons systems can fit into spaces as compact as a suitcase. Boeing’s compact laser system has undergone military testing, and engineers have been working on a higher-powered version for future testing. Soon, the technology could be used on the battlefield.
Much of the testing for this technology has been going on in Boeing’s Albuquerque site. According to Heinrich, continued investment in these projects will help to solidify his home state’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research, bringing more money and tech jobs into the state. Albuquerque is already home to a startup scene that, while small, has been growing, and Boeing already contributes $120 million to the state’s economy through contracts with vendors. Such technological innovation, therefore, is set to not just dramatically change how the military conducts battles, but also the economy of the state of New Mexico, traditionally derided by much of the country as a “flyover state”. While I love living in a major American city in a major American state involved in the tech industry, it’s wonderful to see other states and smaller cities taking part in this industry as well.