Navy’s Laser Weapon Takes Down Drone
The Navy's new Laser Weapon System (LaWS), temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, Calif.
CREDIT: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams
The latest advancement in military defense is heavy on firepower but light on the wallet. A sea-based laser weapon capable of disabling small enemy vessels and taking down surveillance drones has recently been lauded by the U.S. Navy as the weapon of the future.
One blast of “directed energy” from this electrically-powered laser could cost less than $1, according to Admiral Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.
“Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begun to see the merits of this capability,” Klunder said Monday (April 8) in a statement issued by the U.S. Navy.
The laser weapon was tested against a moving target ship as well as a remotely piloted drone. According to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Naval Sea Systems Command, the laser passed these tests, as well as ten others, with flying colors.
Designed to carry out different styles of attack depending on its target, the laser is capable of burning through a boat’s hull or producing a nonlethal burst meant to “dazzle” the sensors used aboard enemy crafts.
The new system will be deployed aboard the USS Ponce in 2014, which is two years sooner than previously planned. The Ponce is now serving as a base for military operations and humanitarian aid in the Persian Gulf.
Once retrofitted with the laser weapon system, the Ponce will be better able to defend itself against Iranian fast-attack boats and the remotely piloted surveillance aircraft that are currently being built in Tehran, according to the New York Times.
While the Navy acknowledges that the prototype laser is not strong enough to bring down a fighter jet or missile, the Times reports that this capability is a goal of researchers for future models.
“Equipping Navy surface ships with lasers could lead to changes in naval tactics, ship design and procurement plans for ship-based weapons, bringing about a technological shift for the Navy- a ‘game changer’- comparable to the advent of shipboard missiles in the 1950s,” according to a nonpartisan study conducted by the Congressional Research Service.
However, the study also found that the laser is not without limitations. It’s concentrated beam can be scattered by water vapor, rendering it less effective in foul weather. Smoke, sand, and dust were also found to limit the firing capabilities of the weapon.
It’s dependence on “line of sight” targeting means that the laser cannot shoot threats that aren’t visible over the horizon, and the use of reflective coating countermeasures could make the laser’s beam ineffective.
Despite these vulnerabilities, the new weapon is still considered by the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Navy to be a low-cost, innovative way to counter threats from land, sky, and sea.