The U.S. Navy is getting ready to deploy a prototype laser weapon technology reminiscent of something you would expect to see in a Star Wars movie.
The prototype, an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), will be installed on USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf this summer, which was first announced by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert during 2013 Sea-Air-Space Expo.
“This is a revolutionary capability,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder. “It’s absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives.”
The weapon uses directed-energy attack what the Navy calls asymmetric threats, including unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats.
U.S. Navy officials consider the solid-state laser a revolutionary technology gives the Navy an extremely affordable, multi-mission weapon with a deep magazine and unmatched precision, targeting and control functions.
Because lasers run on electricity, they can be fired as long as there is power and provide a measure of safety as they don’t require carrying propellants and explosives aboard ships.
“Our nation’s adversaries are pursuing a variety of ways to try and restrict our freedom to operate,” Klunder said. “Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats.”
Klunder leads the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which has worked with the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and others in developing the powerful directed-energy weapons.
The Navy already has demonstrated the effectiveness of lasers in a variety of maritime settings including in 2011 demonstration against multiple small boat threats from a destroyer. In 2012, LaWS downed several unmanned aircraft in tests, showing in the video above.
Over the past several months, working under the ONR’s Quick Reaction Capability program, a team of Navy engineers and scientists have upgraded LaWS, and proved that targets tracked with a “Phalanx Close-In Weapon” can be easily handed over to the laser’s targeting and tracking system. The navy says the result is a weapon system with a single laser weapon control console, manned by a surface warfare weapons officer aboard USS Ponce who can operate all functions of the laser-and if commanded, fire the laser weapon.
The system actually uses a video game-like controller that will allow a sailor the ability manage the laser’s power from disabling to complete destruction.
How the weapon performs deployed aboard the USS Ponce will determine the future of the technology. The Navy says it will decide next year which, if any, of three industry prototypes are suitable to move forward and begin initial ship installation for further testing.
“We are in the midst of a pivotal transition with a technology that will keep our Sailors and Marines safe and well-defended for years to come,” said Peter Morrison, ONR program manager for SSL-TM. “We believe the deployment on Ponce and SSL-TM will pave the way for a future acquisition program of record so we can provide this capability across the fleet.”