When people say “ray guns,” you often think about sci-fi movies like Star Wars or Star Trek, maybe even those first-person shooter games.

Wherever you’ve heard them, the central focus of the weapon stays the same—it’s a gun that fires either a high energy beam, heat rays, or lasers. Oh, don’t pretend you haven’t imagined it in your head! We all know how fun it is to just think of the fun you’d have in some futuristic weapons hangar with some plasma rifles laying around. Maybe even a scary scenario if the Death Star’s super laser were to come to life in some form.

But for those who aren’t in the loop, the US military has been developing a laser weapon that can shoot down enemy drones and maybe even full-on high-powered weapons that can destroy vehicles and aircrafts alike!

The US Navy’s Ray Gun

Yup, you heard that right. The US Navy’s version of a ray gun comes in the form of the Counter-Unmanned Air Systems High Energy Laser Weapon System (or C-UAS HELWS). What does it do? It will be used to shoot down drones with a high-energy beam of light.

This is tremendous news for the Navy as drone warfare has seen a noticeable increase in use in recent years. With the usage of high-powered lasers to destroy these drones in an instant married to a targeting system that could take down 20 of them in a few seconds it be very hard for drone swarms to disable U.S. Navy ships at sea. If the Navy sought to build fast ships that functioned as floating laser batteries with nuclear reactors to power them, and 10-20 laser mounts aboard, you have the capability to protect whole Carrier Strike Groups from attack by drones, aircraft, and even hypersonic missiles.

Because lasers operate at the speed of light, there is virtually no travel time from the laser weapon toward the target. This means that they could reach targets in a matter of nanoseconds, and they can’t run out of ammunition unless they fry up their onboard power source. Even though their range is currently on the short side a fast target acquisition radar

In 2018, the MZA Associates Corp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was awarded $18,697,835 to develop the weapon. According to the contract, it should be done between 2023 and 2025.

It was said that this new laser weapon would be about the same size and weight as a .50 caliber machine gun with a 10 kW laser, which would make it pretty portable hypothetically speaking. Due to its small size, it can be mounted on a military vehicle such as small as the Humvee or or boat patrols.  The bigger issue is the power requirement of a laser needing 60kW to maintain a firing charge.   The Navy wants to build 100-150 Kw lasers which will be very thirsty in terms of electric power. The higher the power the greater the range of the weapon with enough energy left in the beam to burn through objects in front of it.