Weapons that shoot light rather than bullets are quickly becoming a reality, however their huge bulk and even larger energy consumption still demand that they be mounted on vehicles such as battleships and tractor trailers. But thanks to this newly developed optics system from the US Army Research Lab, tomorrow's battlefields could soon be crowded with light guns.

The 21-element optical phased array, known as the Adaptive Phase Coherent Fiber Laser Array system, has been in development for more than a decade as part of DARPA's Excalibur program, which aims to deploy scalable laser weapons to the battlefield using coherent optical phased array technology. This technology uses a high-speed control algorithm called "Stochastic Parallel Gradient Descent," which allows multiple smaller apertures to generate laser beams, then combine them into a larger, more powerful unified beam like the one on the Death Star that destroyed Alderaan.

And thanks to the ARL's work, these beams will be far less subject to physical turbulence and atmospheric interference than the current generation of weapons. What's more, it should also shrink the size, weight, and cost of future weapons systems without reducing their power. This could eventually mean ray guns, or at least 100 KW systems far smaller and lighter than the current HEL MD. It also could mean a new class of laser-based battlefield communications, a new means of missile and drone defense for ground troops, or new weapons for our own UAS fleet. The possibilities are endless. [Defense Talk]