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Boeing Builds a Laser Tank

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"Strong is the Force with Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) . Mmm, yes, strong!"

Settle down, Yoda. Remember the blood pressure -- you're no spring chicken anymore. I suppose you're referring to Boeing's new mobile ground laser? The so-called "High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator?"

"HEL! Yes! Crush the Empire's AT-ATs, we will!"

Well, I don't know about that ... HEL is still a work in progress. Mounted on a "Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck," Boeing's HEL isn't quite Star Wars material yet. But it does aim to deliver "speed-of-light, ultra-precision capability" to the U.S. Army. And completion of a "critical design review" this past summer suggests Boeing may soon add another arrow in its laser quiver, currently stuffed with:

  • The Airborne Laser -- an aerial system tasked with destroying enemy ballistic missiles in-flight, being built by Boeing and subcontractors Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) , Raytheon (NYSE: RTN  ) , and Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) .
  • Advanced Tactical Laser -- the air-to-ground weapon with which Boeing successfully burned a hole in the fender of a hapless automobile a few weeks back.
  • The Free Electron Laser, marketed as a cruise missile defense system for the Navy.
  • The Laser Avenger anti-aircraft system.
  • And last but not least, the Tactical Relay Mirror System -- Boeing's solution to the "line of sight" problem, which gives a whole new meaning to the game of "laser tag."

Across the spectrum, we see Boeing developing a whole new way of waging war -- and perhaps, of preventing it. I mean, who's going to lob missiles at the U.S. Army if they're just going to get shot down? How do you convince a soldier to hop in a tank and face a foe armed with an invisible raygun that could make your munitions pop off without warning? This technology really does have the potential to achieve "peace through strength."

Okay, it's gee-whiz technology, but what's it mean for investors?
First and most obviously, continued progress on the technological front should up Boeing's chances of winning additional government funding for these laser initiatives. Farther down the road, proven laser weapons could mean beaucoup revenues for whole new divisions at Boeing.

Of course, the better way to play this trend might be to ride on Boeing's coattails. While lasers have the potential to keep revenue flowing at Boeing, I'm not sure they can move the needle on this company's $35 billion market cap. Better bets might reside in the stocks of smaller laser-tech companies whose beams serve more industrial purposes. Companies like Rofin-Sinar (Nasdaq: RSTI  ) , IPG Photonics (Nasdaq: IPGP  ) , or II-VI (Nasdaq: IIVI  ) would fit the bill. After all, the smaller the market cap, the bigger the potential.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Boeing. IPG Photonics is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Rofin-Sinar Technologies is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. The Fool owns shares of IPG Photonics. A disclosure policy The Motley Fool has, yes!

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