I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the "flying laser gun" that Boeing (NYSE: BA), Lockheed (NYSE: LMT), and Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) teamed up to build a few years ago is cool and all, but when it comes to making ray guns a practical part of America's arsenal, Northrop is fast becoming the go-to company for military lasers. To demonstrate this, Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) just used its new "Maritime Laser Demonstrator" (MLD) to turn an OPFOR boat into a floating, flaming barbecue.

In a dramatic video on Wired.com, Northrop fired its 10-kilowatt MLD from the USS Paul Foster last week, setting fire to a motorboat sailing one mile off in the distance. In mere seconds' time, the target vessel was ablaze, incapacitated and adrift on the high seas.

It's a big step for Northrop, which had previously stuck to shining its laser upon still targets. Now it's proven the technical ability to strike moving targets at sea, with devastating effect. Next step: Ramping up the amperage to at least 100 kilowatts, the level the Navy deems necessary to strike fast-moving missiles and rockets in-flight, and detonate them in seconds, before they strike home.

What's it mean for investors?
Attaining the 100-kw target will require tens of millions in additional research -- potentially good news for Northrop's revenue stream, but a dicey proposition in an era of defense spending cuts. The better news is that Northrop has now proven the efficacy of its 10-kw product today. And that could mean bigger profits for investors sooner than most observers expected.

We'll be monitoring Northrop's progress here at the Fool. Stay informed. Add it to your Watchlist today.