Northrop Brings a Laser to a Gunfight

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At The Motley Fool, we've made no secret of our love of lasers. And while we've previously sung the praises of  Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick Rofin-Sinar (Nasdaq: RSTI  ) , or Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection IPG Photonics (Nasdaq: IPGP  ) , they admittedly use lasers for boring stuff like welding metal and etching computer chips. When do we get to see lasers blow stuff up?

Applied Energetics may be shopping around a low-rent version, but at last, I've found a bona fide ray-gun shop for laser-happy investors. It's a name you may have heard before: Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) .

Earlier this month, Northrop issued a progress report on its new "solid-state laser." By merging two "laser chains," Northrop demonstrated a 30 kW weapon, and it's progressing toward the military's goal of a 100 kW weapon. Furthermore, Northrop achieved better than 19% electrical-to-optical efficiency in the weapon. We can use kilowattage and efficiency figures like those to track Northrop's progress toward its goal: "electrically powered, operationally scalable and affordable laser weapons for U.S. military services."

Yesterday brought the most recent progress report, as Northrop announced the delivery of a working prototype of such a weapon, a "15kW high-power, solid-state laser" called the "Vesta II," to the U.S. Air Force. Admittedly, it's not much to look at -- to me, it resembles a circa-1980s VCR. But it might be the first step toward an honest-to-goodness ray gun capable of shooting down "rockets, missiles, artillery and mortars."

Between Northrop's solid-state work on the Vesta II, and its integral role -- in cooperation with Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) , Raytheon (NYSE: RTN  ) , and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) -- in developing the airborne Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, Northrop is fast becoming the go-to company for military lasers.

Keep an eye on this one, Fools. Northrop is going places ... and doing its darnedest to render gunpowder a 20th-century technology.

Shining more light on military lasers:

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Boeing. Rofin-Sinar is a Hidden Gems pick. IPG Photonics is a Rule Breakers selection. The Motley Fool owns shares in IPG Photonics. Our Foolish disclosure policy has far better aim than the average Imperial Stormtrooper.

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