The idea of a laser that can turn Earth's atmosphere into a giant magnifying glass may sound like science fiction.
But engineers say that this could be a reality within the next 50 years.
BAE Systems has come up with a concept for a laser that creates structures in the Earth's atmosphere with similar properties to lenses.
This could help it spy on enemies as well as act as form a 'deflector shield' to protect aircraft from enemy attacks.
The firm has called the system a Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL) - a device which uses a directed energy laser alongside a lens system.
Although still a concept, LDAL is based on known science, and BAE Systems says it could create one by 2067.
Professor Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems' Futurist and Technologist, said: 'Working with some of the best scientific minds in the UK we're able to incorporate emerging and disruptive technologies and evolve the landscape of potential military technologies in ways that, five or ten years ago, many would never have dreamed possible.'
The system works by simulating naturally occurring phenomena and temporarily changing the Earth's atmosphere into a lens-like structure.
The change in structure helps it magnify or change the path of electromagnetic waves, such as light and radio signals.
The concept mirrors two existing effects in nature – the reflective properties of the ionosphere, and desert mirages.
It simulates both of these effects by using a high pulsed power laser and exploiting a physics phenomena called the ‘Kerr Effect’ to temporarily heat a small region of atmosphere in a structured way.
The ionosphere is a naturally occurring layer in the Earth's atmosphere that appears at about 40 miles in altitude.
It can be reflective to radio waves, often allowing people to tune in to radio stations that are thousands of miles away.
Radio signals bounce off the ionosphere, and travel very long distances through the air and over the Earth's surface.
Desert mirages provide the illusion of water in the desert, by using hot air near the surface to bend light into the vision of the person looking into the distance.
By exploiting these effects, LDAL makes it possible for the aircraft's sensor to collect more light from the area underneath the lens, delivering a much better image.
And by creating small pockets of ionised atmosphere, the LDAL system can create a 'reflective' structure that will disrupt enemy laser beams, preventing it reaching the aircraft.