These armaments, dubbed directed-energy weapons pods, will be mounted on American warplanes and used to neutralize missiles, and even other combat aircraft.

This project has been in the works for awhile: in 2002, after a two-year project, the first Airborne Laser (ABL) was developed and installed on a 747­-400 freighter officially called YAL­-1A. By 2007, the YAL-1 successfully fired a low-powered laser at an airborne object, then intercepted a test target in 2010 utilizing a high-powered laser. But these experiments were put in place on large aircrafts; it is much harder to develop an ABL that can be strapped onto a small fighter jet. Such is the objective of this new project, with the 2020 end date: to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration into tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats. Such a device would significantly increase engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems.

The new system, under development by General Atomics in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is dubbed HELLADS–or High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System. In May 2015, HELLADS demonstrated sufficient laser power and beam quality to advance to a series of field tests. If successfully completed, this new weapon would be a true turning point for military technology. Indeed, a mix of laser and conventional weapons could result in “a totally transformed battle space in 20 to 25 years, said Kelly Hammett, chief engineer for the Kirtland Air Force Base. Indeed, when you’re shooting a laser, electric power equals ammunition. As long as the plane has fuel to power itself, its laser weapons essentially would be “loaded.”The implications of such an unlimited magazine are truly extraordinary.