Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Boeing's New Laser Gun Could Be a Game-Changer for U.S. Soldiers

By Rich Smith - Jul 5, 2015 at 9:36AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Could this be the invention that helps to revive Boeing's defense business?

Seven years ago, Boeing and Raytheon teamed up to build an Airborne Laser for the U.S. Air Force. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Boeing (BA 5.64%) is building a laser gun for the U.S. Marine Corps.

No, not that ray gun you see above -- that was the U.S. Air Force Airborne Laser. And no, we're not talking about Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser or its Laser Avenger projects, either. Respectively, those weapons systems require anything from the size of a Boeing 747 to a small tank to lug them around.

Boeing's newest laser weapon system, in contrast, is small enough to be transported by hand.

Boeing's new Compact Laser Weapon System (LWS), in four easily assembled parts. Image source: Boeing. 

Well, by a few hands at least. According to a Boeing representative, the company's new Compact Laser Weapon System (LWS) breaks down into four parts, each transportable by one or two Marines. Boeing says these components include:

  • a battery
  • a water-cooled chiller
  • a commercially available fiber laser
  • an upgraded beam director, weighing 40% less than a previous model.

In total, the system weighs about 650 pounds and would probably be operated by a squad of eight to 12 soldiers or Marines.

Setting up a Compact Laser Weapon System at the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One exercise in Yuma, Arizona. Image source: USMC.

Able to be assembled in just 15 minutes, LWS is capable of generating an energy beam of up to 10 kilowatts that can, depending on the power level, be used to acquire, track, and identify a target -- or even destroy it -- at ranges of at least 22 miles. The weapon is designed specifically to track and attack moving aerial targets such as incoming artillery rounds, and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. Special Operations forces are currently testing LWS, with "multiple" branches of the U.S. military expressing interest -- and no wonder.

According to Boeing, a laser gun such as LWS offers the military a "low cost per shot and an infinite magazine" -- both very attractive attributes. Indeed, in a press release, Boeing observed that "with a steady power supply, the Compact LWS can fire continuously." Such a weapon, once operational, might be used to sweep a battlefield, destroying everything it contacts, making it a significant force multiplier for dismounted infantry units.

Targeting image through the Compact LWS viewfinder at 37 km distance. Image source: USMC.

What Boeing's new laser gun means to investors
As one of the smallest laser weapons currently in development, LWS could turn into a pretty big force multiplier for Boeing's profits, too. According to a recent study by MicroMarket Monitor, the market for directed energy weapons in the U.S., including research and development funding, hit $3.1 billion in 2013. That number is expected to more than double (to $8.1 billion) by 2018, implying a long-term annual growth rate of 21.5% -- nearly twice the 12% profits growth rate that analysts project for Boeing.

Perhaps more important, Pentagon spending on laser weapons research, development, and -- eventually -- purchases -- holds the potential to reverse declines in revenue at Boeing's defense businesses. According to S&P Capital IQ, sales at Boeing's Network and Space Systems division (which includes lasers research) dropped 6% last year from 2013 levels. Military Aircraft, Boeing's most obviously bellicose division, saw revenues slump 12% in the same period.

Should Boeing capture even just a 25% share of Pentagon-directed energy spending, however (a not unreasonable goal, given how few major defense contractors we have left), these revenues could replace essentially all revenue declines Boeing Defense has suffered over the past year. Assuming steady 9.3% profit margins, a 25% share of the $8.1 billion laser weapons market in 2018 could potentially produce as much as $750 million in operating profit for Boeing -- amounting to 10% of the company's current operating profitability.

In short, Boeing's new Compact Laser Weapon System may be designed for easy portability and small size. The profits, however, could turn out to be very big indeed.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

The Boeing Company Stock Quote
The Boeing Company
$141.53 (5.64%) $7.56

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 06/25/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.