The US Navy has declared a ship-mounted laser an “operational asset” in the Persian Gulf.
It’s been developing the 30 kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) for several years now. This year, it’s been installed on mothership the USS Ponce as part of a $US40 million research and development project.
We first saw it in action in July. It was, to your average sci-fi fan, unimpressive, taking an agonising 30 seconds to burn a hole in a dinghy from 1.6km away, in the kind of manner you’d expect from an oversized magnifying glass.
Fast forward seven months and things are progressing nicely. Watch as it locks on a drone on board a larger ship and takes a lot less than 30 seconds to blow it up:
It also takes out a rocket-propelled grenade, burned a hole in a rigid dinghy (again) and, perhaps most impressively, locked on and took out a drone:
“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,” Rear Admiral Matthew L. Klunder said.
Klunder told a press conference that US Central Command had given permission for the commander of the ship to defend itself with the weapon, which in one grab looks suspiciously like it’s aimed using a Sony PlayStation controller.
The Navy wants to ramp the laser up to 50kW and eventually 100kW, which will no doubt ramp up the million of dollars in development proportionally. But now it’s operational, the laser’s real benefit is on show:
“At less than a dollar per shot, there’s no question about the value LaWS provides,” Klunder said.
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