The US, China, Israel, France, Germany and Russia have all been researching the laser weapons for some time, but the world’s military powers are ramping up their efforts. The directed-energy weapons are based on lasers and can offer low cost per shot giving countries an effective way of defending themselves against missiles.
A Hong Kong-based military commentator, Song Zhongping, said laser weapons have the potential to change the face of warfare.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post, he said: “An arms race of laser weapons has long begun.
“The US has a more solid technological foundation, but China is working to narrow the gap.
“Laser weapons can also be seen as an important symbol of the Chinese military’s transformation, given that their adoption will change the form of future warfare.”
According to a Congressional Research Service, the US has been researching directed energy since the 1960s.
The report indicated that the US is leading the way in developing laser weapons.
The US Pacific Fleet said the US Navy’s USS Portland ship has tested a laser weapon which is capable of destroying aerial, sea and land-based threats in the Pacific.
In November, the US Navy installed a laser weapon onto the Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer USS Dewey.
The American navy is expecting to have eight warships which can be equip with the ODIN, a laser weapon designed to fight unmanned aerial systems, in the next three years.
China is also building up its laser weapon capabilities in both naval vessels and warplanes.
In July, China said it had equipped its warships with advanced generators to power laser and railgun weapons.
The country did not reveal the exact type of vessels they had prepared.
But it is believed to be on China’s most advanced destroyers.
China’s People’s Liberation Army published a procurement notice earlier this year which said that it could be developing the capability to attach a new laser weapon onto its planes.
The new equipment is likely to be a new type of tactical assault weapon rather than a laser device, according to the South China Morning Post.
The advancement of laser weapon development by both the US and China has led to disputes.
In February, the US Navy said a Chinese warship had aimed a laser weapon and fired it at one of America’s surveillance aircrafts.
The US Navy published a post on social media to urge China that “you don’t want to play laser tag with us”.
But this was not the first time America has called China out for using laser weapons.
In 2018, US military officials warned pilots about a Chinese airbase in Djibouti which may have targeted American planes with “military-grade laser beams”.
Regulation of laser weapons has been in place since 1998 to help defuse conflicts.
The United Nations created the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons and, as of 2018, it has been agreed by 108 nations.
It prohibits the use of laser weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness.