The U.S. Navy will deploy its first ever space-age weapon this summer in the form of a directed energy laser weapon mounted on a battleship.
After finishing a shipyard refurbishing, the USS Ponce will be the first ship in the fleet to add the Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS) to its arms load out for defense against “asymmetric threats” like drones, improvised aerial assaults and small sea craft, Ars Technica reports.
The LaWS is capable of directing enough concentrated energy at a smaller target to set it on fire and ignite its fuel load or defend against missiles and drones by blinding cameras and sensors, all at the price of about $1 per shot.
“The effects are scalable,” Naval Sea Systems Command program manager for directed energy and electric weapons Captain Mike Ziv told the Defense Department’s Armed With Science blog. “In some cases [the effects are] reversible, and in some cases it can be used for destruction.”
During a May 2013 test an LaWS prototype successfully blinded and destroyed a flying drone from the deck of ship with the help of radar targeting from the Navy’s more traditional weapons systems.
“One of the advantages of the laser system we’re using is that it’s based on commercial technologies. It’s fairly efficient compared to other lasers, and because of that, it can be powered on a lot of different platforms, using existing power sources,” Ziv said of the weapon’s first deployment on Ponce, which will be the last step in LaWS’s prototype stage.
The system won’t replace missiles or guns, but is the first in a series of future, more high-powered directed energy weapons and rail guns (high-velocity projectile launchers powered by electro-magnetics) that could be powered by the larger electric generators aboard the Navy’s new Zumwalt-class destroyers.
“What we really want to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt is that this system is ready to be operated in theater … by our sailors and is ready to transition to be in broader use throughout the fleets. And I think we’re on track to get that done,” Ziv said.