Laser Weapons in Progress
The U.S. Air Force has granted aerospace company Boeing a $90-million contract to research, develop, and deliver a laser pod by December 15, 2021. That pod is likely the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD), which would be integrated into the U.S. Air Force's fourth-generation fighter fleet.
Development of high-energy lasers as weapons kicked off in 1996 when U.S. and Israeli contractors led by global security company Northrop Grumman teamed up to develop Tactical High Energy Lasers (THELs), and the technology has been progressing since.
Boeing makes sense as a partner for the military in the SHiELD project as it is one of the organizations leading that innovation. Its Directed Energy Systems arm is dedicated to high-energy laser research and development, and in 2014, they designed the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL-MD), a defense aid that uses a high-energy laser to track, target, and destroy objects even when they’re traveling at high speeds.
Long-Range Defense Against Missiles...and Asteroids?
Unfortunately, self-destruction is one of the biggest threats to the human species. As overall technology progresses, warfare technologies advance with it. Using high-energy lasers to destroy oncoming threats offers a highly advantageous benefit: distance. The military can obliterate a missile, for example, before it gets close enough to inflict any damage to people or vehicles. The solution is also a low-cost, low-risk alternative to using fighter planes to combat threats.
Based on the demonstrations of these laser pods, it’s not hard to imagine that similar technology may be the answer if we're ever faced with an impending comet collision doomsday. It's been a common theme in video games, and in fact, a paper authored by a team led by Jonathan Campbell of NASA’s Advanced Space Flights Projects in 2002 suggested exactly that: a laser-based defense.