Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) is helping the U.S. Navy develop its next-generation laser gun.

On Tuesday, Northrop announced that it has been awarded a Navy R&D contract to help "mature" solid state laser technology for use in shipboard defense. If testing bears fruit, the Navy ultimately hopes to build a prototype laser weapon system to test its usefulness aboard warships. The value of Tuesday's contract award was not disclosed.

Northrop has already worked on similar laser gun projects for the Navy, helping to demo the first-ever high-energy laser fired at sea in the 2011 Maritime Laser Demonstration. It was also involved in the Laser Weapon Test demonstration that made headlines last month, and it played an integral part in the Air Force's Airborne Laser program several years ago, before the ABL program was canceled.

The challenge for Northrop now will be to progress past R&D work and demonstration projects to -- as Steve Hixon, the company's vice president for directed energy at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, puts it -- "help the Navy mature the weapon system for use by sailors in the real world."