High-intensity sub-nanosecond-pulsed lasers irradiating thin targets in vacuum permit generation of electrons and ion acceleration and high photon yield emission in non-equilibrium plasmas. At intensities higher than 1015 W/cm2 thin foils can be irradiated in the target-normal sheath acceleration regime driving ion acceleration in the forward direction above 1 MeV per charge state. The distributions of emitted ions in terms of energy, charge state and angular emission are controlled by laser parameters, irradiation conditions, target geometry and composition. Advanced targets can be employed to increase the laser absorption in thin foils and to enhance the energy and the yield of the ion acceleration process. Semiconductor detectors, Thomson parabola spectrometer and streak camera can be employed as online plasma diagnostics to monitor the plasma parameters, shot by shot. Some applications in the field of the multiple ion implantation, hadrontherapy and nuclear physics are reported.