Rheinmetall's 10-kilowatt laser mounted on an air defense vehicle's turret.
updated 11/28/2011 1:31:18 PM ET 2011-11-28T18:31:18

Laser weapons have steadily edged toward reality as the U.S. military has tested battlefield uses such as shooting down drones and sinking small boats. Now a German defense manufacturer has joined the fray by showing how its vehicle-mounted laser is able to blast everything from an unmanned flying target to roadside bombs.

One 10-kilowatt laser mounted on an air defense vehicle's turret not only obliterated a small flying drone within a matter of seconds, but also demonstrated its ability to shoot incoming mortar rounds out of the sky as a way of protecting ground troops from enemy fire. A smaller 1-kilowatt laser targeted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and sank a rubber raft.

The laser destroys a target drone during tests.

Such live fire tests held by the defense company Rheinmetall in Ochsenboden, Switzerland, aimed to impress international guests with the German system's marriage of lasers with air defense systems capable of tracking and taking out battlefield targets.

The German defense manufacturer expects to upgrade to a 100-kilowatt high-energy laser weapon within the next three to five years — 100 kilowatts being considered weapons-grade for destroying a much broader range of battlefield targets.

Past tests by the U.S. military and defense contractors have already shown how lasers can eliminate such a variety of targets individually, but Rheinmetall's demonstration emphasizes the versatility of battlefield lasers by taking on the different targets with the same laser systems.

Some of the first battlefield lasers may appear as hybrid systems that marry laser power with old-fashioned projectile weapons, such as the U.S. Navy's interest in a defensive ship weapon that combines a laser with a machine gun. The U.S. Army's version of a vehicle-mounted laser remains in development by Boeing.

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