Light Amplification through the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers have been around for a long, long time, and over the years they have been continually refined, adjusted, and tweaked until they finally became more than simple communications and entertainment tools.
Since the days of the first laser satellite defense systems the technology has advanced with increasing speed. Basically nothing more than a coherent beam of light at a single, controllable, frequency/wavelength, it was always known that they could be used as weapons, but the big question at hand was always, how do we provide enough energy in a small enough package to make them practical and effective.
Hydrogen power cells heralded the beginning of practical, man-portable laser weapons, although they were still cumbersome and situational at best. The beams, while incredibly powerful, were only good for one shot per fuel cell. This rapid material consumption rate was offset by the weapon’s destructive capabilities however, and many military units began to carry a laser weapon with them for similar tasks as a disposable rocket launcher might be used. They also made excellent vehicle mounted weapons as they could be serviced by dedicated, high-output generators and crews.
With the advent of high capacity, advanced material batteries and eventually, micro fusion power cells, the laser weapon really came into its own. These advances allowed for much smaller, more practical, multi-use weapons to be developed and eventually reduced them in size to similar dimensions as more conventional projectile weapons. Now laser weapons are available in a myriad of sizes and shapes, all of which are extremely effective weapons when dealing with armor and hardened installations that are not equipped with refractive or ablative armors.
Lasers used against people are somewhat of a dichotomy in that they easily do significant damage, but at the same time they cauterize wounds as quickly as they are made and tend to deaden pain receptors and nerves as they pass through, thereby allowing victims of laser fire to ignore the damage and keep fighting on for as long as their bodies continue to function. For this reason and the fact that human flesh does not tend to stop the beams, allowing for significant collateral damage, they are typically used more against vehicles and armor than against people.
The following statistics are representative of nearly all small arms type laser weapons, anything different would either be very custom or more than likely vehicle or ship mounted.
Effective Range: 15 to 20 miles with proper visibility and optics for aiming.
Maximum Range: In an atmosphere, approximately 50 to 100 miles, mostly hindered by line of sight and beam attenuation through the gaseous composition of the atmosphere. In the vacuum of space the range of laser weaponry is up to one-hundred times greater than in an atmosphere.
Payload: Most modern laser weapons have an effectively unlimited payload as they are powered by micro fusion power cells.
Weapon Class: C
Laser weapons are considered a controlled commodity and are thusly only available to military and law enforcement organizations. Also, the ease with which a laser beam could rupture a hull and instantly kill hundreds or more people with a poorly placed shot has made their use in contained atmosphere environments (space stations, space craft, and other such pressurized environments contained within otherwise inhospitable or unlivable atmospheres) illegal.