The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey in San Diego, California

US Navy to field first laser weapon

The U.S. Navy said it will deploy for the first time a laser weapon on one of its ships that could shoot down drones.

"The future is here," said Peter Morrison at the Office of Naval Research's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program.

The weapon is being billed as a step toward transforming warfare. 

Since it runs on electricity, it can fire as long as there is power at a cost of less than $1 dollar per shot.

"Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability," Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, said.

The prototype, which one official said cost between $31 million and $32 million to make, will be installed aboard the USS Ponce, which is being used as a floating base in the Middle East, sometime in fiscal year 2014, which begins in October.

Klunder said the Navy expects that someday incoming missiles will not be able to "simply outmanoeuvre" a highly accurate laser beam traveling at the speed of light.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service praises the laser technology but also notes drawbacks, including the potential it could accidentally hit satellites or aircraft. 

Weather also affects lasers.

"Lasers might not work well, or at all, in rain or fog, preventing lasers from being an all-weather solution," it said in its report issued on March 14.

Further information:

A Navy video of the high-energy laser aboard a moving surface combatant ship shooting down a drone can be seen online

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