DEATH rays, once the preserve of sci-fi movies like Star-Wars, are to be fitted to fighter jets by defence mega-firm Lockheed Martin.
The massive aviation firm has announced that it will arm a range of hyper advanced fighters with powerful laser weapons.
Lockheed Martin won a contract with the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) worth a reported $26.3million (£20million) to develop a “high power fibre laser” which can be fitted to fighter jets.
The contract is part of the AFRL Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) scheme which is aiming to build the next generation of high tech weapons.
The company hopes to have the weapons tested and battlefield ready by 2021.
Dr Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin, said: “Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible.
“We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system.”
The firm had tested lasers fitted to tanks earlier this year, but Dr Afzal said fitting them to fighter jets is a “completely new and different challenge”.
He added: “The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real.
“The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships.
“It’s exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft.”
Daniel Goure, a defence analyst and senior vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public policy research organisation based in Arlington, Virginia, told CNBC: “There are a couple of great advantages of laser weapons, assuming all the technology works properly.
“You get a low cost per shot — much cheaper than a missile in almost every case.
“One of the things we find in a lot of our systems — land, sea and air — is that we run out of shots particularly on the defence.
“You just run out of bullets or missiles. And if you have laser, it avoids having to reload.”