The U.S. Navy has achieved a historic milestone with a cutting-edge new laser weapon system that can destroy targets for less than $1 per shot.
The Navy made the announcement Tuesday that for the first time ever the new laser weapon system, known as LaWS, was successfully deployed and operated aboard a Navy ship in in the Arabian Gulf. The weapon, which uses a form of concentrated directed-energy to destroy a target, has been under development by the Office of Naval Research for several years.
“Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research. “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.”
The demonstrations of the new weapon took place from September to November aboard the USS Ponce while deployed in the Arabian Gulf. The at sea tests are being described as “historic” because not only did they show a laser weapon working aboard a deployed U.S. Navy ship, but also because the LaWS actually worked seamlessly with existing weapon systems.
During the tests, LaWS hit targets mounted aboard a speeding oncoming small boat, shot a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) out of the sky, and destroyed other moving targets at sea. Check out the video below of the weapon in action:
The LaWS weapon is also being praised for its cost-effectiveness, as well as the inherent increase in safety for ships and crews because lasers are not dependent on the traditional propellant and gunpowder-based ordnance found on ships. They also cost less to build, install and fire than traditional kinetic weapons — for example a multimillion-dollar missile.
“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.”
In the future, factors from the successful deployment and demonstration aboard the USS Ponce will help guide the development of weapons under ONR’s Solid-State Laser-Technology Maturation program. According to the U.S. Navy, combat-ready laser prototypes that could be installed on vessels such as guided-missile destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship in the early 2020s.