The United States Navy test fired its new active laser weapons system from the USS Ponce warship Tuesday. The multi-million dollar device is the first of its kind to be deployed and is now fully operational in the Persian Gulf.
The LaWS (Laser Weapons System) is capable of engaging a target at the speed of light, making it 50,000 times faster than an intercontinental ballistic missile. It is now actively in service on the Navy’s USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, ready to fire on command.
Although principally designed to take out hostile drones, the versatile weapon can also be used to eliminate other stationary and moving targets. Thanks to its immense speed and intensity, a laser shot is more accurate and devastating than a single bullet.
It penetrates its target using an invisible area of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is impossible to see with the naked eye. It is also almost completely silent. The system is unaffected by wind speed or other bad weather conditions. It causes minimal collateral damage, and can travel extremely long distances. USS Ponce Captain Christopher Wells described it as a “point-and-shoot, instant-kill weapon”.
The laser system uses special materials that beam out huge numbers of photons at a single target. This rapidly heats one point of the object to several thousand degrees, setting it alight and burning it to a crisp. It is intended to penetrate a single section of a hostile target, such as a boat engine or drone power supply. It then sets it on fire and immediately disables it, without destroying the entire vessel. This means that its primary targets are drones, aircraft engines and small sea vessels.
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During the first real-world test firing of the laser weapon, the USS Ponce crew targeted a dummy drone aircraft. They shot its wing with the laser and melted it to ashes, causing the remaining device to plummet into the sea.
The new laser weapon marks a major step forward for the US in terms of military technology. Purposely trialed in the Persian Gulf, it appears to be a show of force, and will likely be seen as a warning to Iran and other hostile states. Military drones have increasingly been deployed by foreign forces over the last few years, and the US Navy has developed this weapon to mitigate that threat.
The $40 million laser is electric-powered and requires three naval operatives to launch. Although the system is expensive to build, each shot costs just one dollar and requires no ammunition, making it far cheaper than firing a single multi-million-dollar ballistic missile.
The US military has stepped up its investment in emerging warfare technology over the past several months in an effort to stay ahead of the increasingly sophisticated military apparatus of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Research has focused on laser weapons, wireless sensor networks, drones and robotics. According to CNN, a second-generation LaWS system is already under development. The upgraded laser weapon will be able neutralize high speed moving targets such as missiles.