The same ionization effect of the atmosphere could be used to develop a focused mirror, he said.
"What we are going to do is to look at a distant scene and attempt to look at what is going on, like looking through a telescope or binoculars," he said. "The binoculars provide magnification, but also ensure we are collecting a lot of light from the scene and focusing it down to a relatively small sensor built inside our aircraft."
While this exotic use of laser technology may be a decade or two away, other types of laser weapons are being developed by the U.S. and European militaries. The US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force have all come up with various mobile laser systems in recent years, and the Pentagon's research and development budget for lasers got a big boost in the most recent defense spending bill.
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"Lasers are amazing versatile devices," said Loren Thompson, CEO and founder of the Lexington Institute, a military and technology think tank based in Northern Virginia. "You can use them for sensing, as weapons, for communicating and do a variety of more exotic things with them. The main challenge in any laser is developing a power source, shaping it into a beam and pointing it precisely."
Thompson said he believed that BAE Systems would be able to pull it off, given the company's expertise in building radar, radar jamming and sensing systems.
"It will probably lead to the development of novel applications of lasers," Thompson said.
Colosimo said the LDAL system is a concept and that BAE is in discussions on whether to build a prototype. A working model wouldn't be ready for a decade or more, he said.
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