Skyborne chemical lasers have successfully shown off their potential killing power, and so the Air Force has now turned toward putting a more compact electric laser aboard its aircraft, Aviation Week’sAres Defense Blog reports.

The request by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory takes aim at developing a high-power electric laser that can fly aboard a bomber or gunship. Such a laser would also have the ability to strike ground targets and even engage in air-to-air self defense.

That latter part presumably refers to striking incoming air-to-air missiles, which may prove more challenging than blasting a ballistic missile. But it may also refer to simply burning down an enemy aircraft.

Electric Laser on Large Aircraft (ELLA) would represent a stepping stone toward the Air Force’s long-sought Next Generation Tactical Laser Weapon, which could eventually find its way to fighter-sized aircraft. The challenge rests with creating a powerful electric laser that packs the same punch as bulkier chemical lasers.

Existing chemical lasers such as the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) require a massive cargo plane like the C-130 to lift them into the sky, so no laser-outfitted F-22 Raptors will be flying around just yet. But at least the ATL can burn a pretty hole in ground vehicles.

[via Aviation Week’s Ares Defense Blog]