The Navy recently showed off a weapons-grade laser that could torch a small boat, and it looks like the Air Force got a serious case of beam weapon envy. It's now soliciting proposals for a sensor-frying laser cannon that could be mounted on an aircraft.
The Air Force has a history with lasers: just last year, the Airborne Laser Testbed (a heavily modified 747 with a high-energy chemical laser that fires through a turret in the nose) managed to shoot down a couple test missiles. A $5.2 billion dollar project that produced a single plane that costs about $100,000 per hour in the air isn't really sustainable, though, and the Air Force is now looking for something with a more reasonable level of utility.
The High Power Laser Effects for Counter-Sensor Engagement project (or HPLECSEP) is looking for someone to go out and develop a system that can "provide a near-term capability to disable sensors and engagement systems using lasers, either pulsed or continuous wave." In other words, the Air Force wants something that can zap not missiles but IR trackers and radar and things like that, making the missiles themselves much less of a threat.
The laser would have to deliver a kilojoule per cubic centimeter of power from 10 kilometers a way, which is nothing to sneeze at, but also nothing that couldn't potentially be achieved with current technology. So while we may not be talking laser dogfights quite yet, this is definitely one of the first steps. And If you've got something that fits the bill in your basement or something, the Air Force would like your proposal by May 12.
Via Danger Room