Arlington, Va. – The Navy says its new laser weapon works and it will use it if it has to.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced Wednesday that the Navy’s new laser weapon system (LaWS) was for the first time successfully deployed and operated aboard a navy ship.
The operational demonstrations, which took place from September to November aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, were historic not only because they showed a laser weapon working aboard a deployed ship, but also because LaWS operated seamlessly with existing ship defense systems, according to a release from the Navy.
“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.”
Klunder said the laser performed so well that the commander of the Ponce is now authorized to use it in defense of the vessel, according to a report from the U.S. Naval Institute.
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.
Sailors reported the weapon performed flawlessly, including in adverse weather conditions of high winds, heat and humidity.
The system is operated by a video-game like controller, and can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options, from non-lethal measures such as optical “dazzling” and disabling, to lethal destruction if necessary. It could prove to be a pivotal asset against what are termed “asymmetric threats,” which include small attack boats and UAVs.
Data regarding accuracy, lethality and other factors from the Ponce deployment will guide the development of weapons under ONR’s Solid-State Laser-Technology Maturation program. Under this program, industry teams have been selected to develop cost-effective, combat-ready
laser prototypes that could be installed on vessels such as guided-missile destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship in the early 2020s.
Researchers say the technology breakthroughs demonstrated by LaWS will also benefit airborne and ground-based weapon systems.
While laser weapons offer new levels of precision and speed, they also bring increased safety for ships and crews, as lasers are not dependent on the traditional propellant and gunpowder-based ordnance found on ships. Lasers run on electricity and can be fired as long as there is power.
They also cost less to build, install and fire than traditional kinetic weapons like 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.”
CNN contributed to this report