Fighter jets may soon take enemies out of the sky using laser weapons. "That day is a lot closer than I think a lot of people think it is," said U.S. Air Force General Hawk Carlisle at this week's 2015 Air Force Association Air & Space conference.

Speaking at a presentation about what Carlisle calls "Fifth-Generation Warfare," he told Ars Technica that the Air Force is looking for something like a laser cannon that can be mounted on fighter aircraft and other manned planes within the next five years. These "directed-energy pods" placed on aircraft could, ideally, stop enemy aircraft, drones, and missiles at a lower "cost per shot" than current missiles and guns.

Not to be outdone, the U.S. Navy's Laser Weapon System (LaWS) was shown off to the world at the end of last year. It uses a "directed energy weapon" to defend ships from drones, small boats, and submarines. Once locked on, the 30-kilowatt blast beam that's about 2-3 nanometers in diameter burns up the target quickly.

Lockheed Martin also showed off its laser weapon earlier this year in a demonstration that burned through the running engine of a small truck in just seconds.

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The Air Force's laser weapon will likely be based on HELLADS, a 150-plus-kilowatt system in development by General Atomics and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Air Force leaders think the system, now in ground-based testing, could yield field-ready weapons by 2020.