Laser weapon destroys targets with ‘near-instantaneous lethality’

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The US military has successfully tested a prototype laser weapon system on a range of targets.

According to officials at the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), the laser weapon system (LaWS) was successfully deployed and operated aboard a naval vessel in the Persian Gulf.

The operational demonstrations, which took place from September to November aboard USS Ponce (AFSB [I] 15), showed that a laser weapon could be deployed aboard a US Navy ship and work alongside existing ship defence systems.

‘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.’

During the tests, LaWS - a collaborative effort between ONR, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and industry partners - 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 worked with LaWS over several months since it was installed, and reported the weapon performed flawlessly, including in adverse weather conditions of high winds, heat and humidity. They noted the system exceeded expectations for reliability and maintainability.

According to ONR, 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 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 guided-missile destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship in the early 2020s. Researchers said the technology breakthroughs demonstrated by LaWS could also be applied in airborne and ground-based weapon systems.

‘At less than a dollar per shot, there’s no question about the value LaWS provides,’ Klunder said in a statement. ‘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.’