This is pretty cool. The Air Force is testing out Northrop Grumman's Guardian anti-missile laser on a Kansas Air National Guard KC-135. The system is almost a scaled down version of the advanced Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures found on planes like the C-130s that routinely fly in and out of airports in dangerous areas such as Kabul. Both systems use turret-mounted lasers bolted onto the outside of the airplanes to confuse shoulder-fired heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. If the tests are successful, aircraft like the KC-135 could potentially be flown out of airbases closer to actual combat zones. The jets typically operate out of bases outside Iraq and Afghanistan; allowing the aircraft to takeoff without being shot down by an insurgent firing a stinger-like missile from just outside the base perimeter.
This type of system has already been tested on FedEx cargo jets which can sometimes make deliveries in some pretty hairy places. Also, there's huge potential in the civil market for these easily-installed countermeasures.
Here's the skinny on the tests known as an Operational Utility Evaluation; from Northrop:
Planning for the Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) began in early 2010 and on Nov. 17, the Air National Guard began modifying a KC-135 based on plans and drawings provided by Northrop Grumman. Flight trials on the modified aircraft began on Jan. 11, 2011, just 55 days later. OUE activities are scheduled through the second quarter of 2011 and include additional flights and system tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.