The US Navy’s futuristic laser cannon has completed two months of testing aboard a military vessel, earning praise from sailors for flawless operations
The laser weapon system (LaWS), emitting energy beams to destroy enemy targets with unprecedented precision at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons, was installed aboard USS Ponce and tested between September and November in the waters of the Persian Gulf.
“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,” said the chief of America’s naval research Rear Admiral Matthew L Klunder.
“Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations,” he added.
The system is operated by a video-game joystick, and can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options, from non-lethal measures such as optical ‘dazzling’ and disabling, to lethal destruction.
The US Navy believes it could prove efficient in combatting the so-called asymmetric threats, which include small attack boats and UAVs.
During the tests, the laser gun, developed jointly by ONR, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and industry partners, successfully destroyed multiple moving targets including an object on board a speeding oncoming small boat and a Scan Eagle drone.
According to the Office of Naval Research the system performed flawlessly even in adverse weather conditions and exceeded expectation in terms of reliability and maintainability.
Data acquired throughout the two-month trial will enable the project partners to develop the next generation of laser weapons for the US under the Solid-State Laser Technology maturation programme.
While offering unprecedented levels of precision and speed, laser cannons are also considered safer for the operating crews than weapons depending on gun-powder or other flammable propellant.
The Office of Naval Research said the system was also cheaper to build than current missile systems.
“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 defence budgets, this will more effectively manage resources to ensure our sailors and marines are never in a fair fight.”
The Navy has previously demonstrated the effectiveness of lasers in a variety of maritime settings. In a 2011 demonstration, a laser was used to defeat multiple small boat threats from a destroyer. In 2012, LaWS downed several unmanned aircraft in tests during naval exercises.
The systems are expected to be rolled out across the US Navy’s fleet in the early 2020s.