Battlefield lasers are fast becoming a reality, thanks the the pioneering efforts of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The Lab says that it's Solid State Heat Capacity Laser (SSHCL) has now achieved an average power output of 67kW, bringing it tantalisingly close to the 100kW target the military would like. The SSHCL has previously only managed a 45kW output.

Solid state vs chemical

Dr Bob Yamamoto of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said that even a 27kW laser could burn through a 2.5cm thick sheet of steel in seven seconds, and told the BBC : "We believe we hold the world's record for this."

What makes the SSHCL so special is that it uses a solid-state lithium-ion source for its power, enabling it to be packaged into a nine metre trailer for battlefield use.

Chemical lasers, by contrast, produce more power - up to one megawatt - but are big, heavy and require vast vats for storing the chemicals, shedding doubt on their use as battlefield weapons. The US Air Force currently has a one megawatt chemical laser installed in a Boeing 747 .

Once employed on the battlefield, the SSHCL will be used to target devices like rockets and roadside bombs. Dr Yamamoto said:

"If you have an improvised explosive device (IED), exposed by the roadside in Baghdad, detonating that device in five seconds or 15 seconds is not such an issue. You could have - for example - a 25kW laser and have it dwell a little longer on the target."

"Conversely, if you have a katyusha rocket that you are trying to engage three or four kilometres away, having more power is a useful thing. Maybe 100kW in that application is exactly what you want."

The Lab estimates that it will reach its 'magic' 100kW target in less than a year.