It looks like wars of the future might actually be fought with lasers. The U.S. Navy has just declared an experimental laser weapon operational. That’s right: we have a fully armed and operational battle laser and we can witness its firepower.
The weapons system in question is a 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System (or simply LaWS). Made of a mix of commercially available components and proprietary Navy software, the LaWS can effectively disinegrate targets at a “tactically significant” distance, and is more efficient than other lasers of the same size. Each laser blast breaks down to about one dollar per shot.
The weapon has its own unique power source that doubles as its cooling source — a “skid” that uses a diesel generator. Its navigation information, on the other hand, does come from its host ship — it uses navigation and close-in weapon systems data but can also be manually targeted and fired by sailors almost like it was a video game.
The LaWS was installed on the superstructure of the USS Ponce this summer as part of a $40 million research and development effort run by the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Sea Systems Command. Among the goals of this R&D program was a demonstration of the LaWS system that would test whether these types of weapons could be used successfully in an operational setting. And it passed the tests with flying colors (see video above). The LaWS disabled a small Scan Eagle-sized drone, detonated a rocket-propelled grenade, and burned out the engine of a rigid hull inflatable boat.
None of the tests were on human targets. In fact, the weapon cannot be used on humans under the rules laid out in the Geneva Conventions. It’s purely a weapon to take out unmanned targets.
And now the system, which is currently afloat in the Persian Gulf, is operational. But only the ship’s captain has the authority to order its use if he feels it’s necessary to his ship and its sailors’ safety, most likely against slow-moving helicopters or fast-moving patrol craft.
The Navy intends to keep LaWS aboard the USS Ponce for one year while considering adding it to other ships. The goal, for the time being, is to have variations of the LaWS system on multiple ships by 2020.
IMAGE: US Navy