Weaponized lasers — or as the Pentagon likes to think of them, Directed Energy Weapons — are a staple of futuristic cartoons and sci-fi movies, are now being used by the United States for the first time after a laser weapon system was successfully deployed on a naval craft in the Arabian Gulf.
The US Navy held demonstrations of the laser — known as LaWS — between September and November aboard the USS Ponce, according to a statement from the Navy. The LaWS is capable of disabling and destroying targets, including both ships and aircraft.
"Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in the statement. "We ran this particular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality."
Despite only being a test run, sailors aboard the USS Ponce reported that the laser worked "flawlessly" and exceeded expectations even in high heat, wind, and humidity, the Navy said. A video of one of the tests shows servicemen using a video game-like controller to aim the laser and destroy a missile mounted on a boat in the sea, before shooting an unmanned aircraft out of the sky.
The tests conducted aboard the USS Ponce will serve as the blueprint for future development of laser weapons for the Navy and the LaWS could be installed on destroyers and combat ships by the early 2020s.
The Navy lauded the practicality of laser weapons, saying that they are both cheaper and safer than traditional naval missiles.
"At less than a dollar per shot, there's no question about the value LaWS provides," said Klunder. "With affordability a serious concern for our defense budgets, this will more effectively manage resources to ensure our sailors and marines are never in a fair fight."
Additional testing will be conducted on the LaWS, but the Navy didn't disclose any specifics on when or where those tests will be done.
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