Under Project Endurance, Northrop Grumman received a $14.6 million contract and Lockheed Martin received $11.4 million to develop laser weapons to protect manned and unmanned aircraft. Project Endurance was included in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) fiscal year 2014 budget.
Endurance was born out of DARPA's Excalibur program in which engineers have worked to "develop coherent optical phased array technologies to enable scalable laser weapons that are 10 times lighter and more compact than existing high-power chemical laser systems," according to a DARPA release.
Research on lasers has advanced to such a point the military feels ready to install them aboard aircraft and utilize them as a key defense system.
Of course, this is certainly not the first time the military has tried to build laser weapons onto aircraft. There was the ill fated Airborne Laser program that was engineered to shoot down ballistic missiles. However, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended up doing most of the shooting when he killed the program along with other that he deemed unrealistic and too expensive.