Researchers at Northrop Grumman have just announced that they have a battlefield-ready laser. They can now get 100 kilowatts of power into a laser, which has long been a barrier.
In a recent press release, the company announced that they had created the most powerful laser ray at 105 kilowatts, paving the way for energy weapons use in combat. Lasers themselves have been used in combat before, but for the purposes of accurate targeting, rather than directly attacking a target.
According to sources, the 100 kilowatt threshold is the level at which military grade lasers can be powerful enough to be useful. And the military has plenty of ways in which lasers can be useful. Wired's Danger Room says Boeing has a contract to outfit a truck with a laser, while Raytheon is set to design a mortar elimination system, and there are undoubtedly other systems in the works.
Laser systems provide what Northrop Grumman calls power scaling, which might very well change a number of ways in which combat can be undertaken. The theory behind this is that power levels can be adjusted for specific threats - taking down an enemy bomber will have different requirements than attacking an enemy combatant. This is certainly something that we have seen in the realm of science fiction: "Set for stun".
Does this mean that we'll see combat troops in the Middle East outfitted with ray guns and laser cannons? Unlikely, as there is still a lot to be worked out with this technology, such as making it more portable and making sure that it won't overheat, as well as making sure that you don't have to replace the battery every other shot. But, it is a significant step towards that future.