The prototype laser weapon -- an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) -- will deploy on the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf against so-called "asymmetric threats" like unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats, Navy officials say.
High-energy lasers offer an affordable and safe way to target these threats at the speed of light with extreme precision and an unlimited magazine, experts say.
“This is a revolutionary capability,” says Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research. “It’s absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives.”
Laser weapons cost about a dollar a shot, never run out of ammunition, and offer an alternative to costly missiles, artillery shells, bullets, and other munitions, Klunder says.
The Navy already has demonstrated the effectiveness of lasers at sea -- particularly in a 2011 demonstration to defeat several small boat threats from a destroyer. In 2012, LaWS shot down several unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
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Over the past several months scientists have upgraded LaWS, and proved that targets tracked with a Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) can hand off to the laser's targeting and tracking system, Navy officials say.
The result will be a laser weapon aboard the Ponce with one control console manned by a surface warfare weapons officer who can operate all functions of the laser weapon system. Operators will be able to manage the laser’s power to disable or destroy targets.
Data regarding accuracy, lethality, and other factors from the Ponce deployment will guide the development of even more capable weapons under ONR’s Solid-State Laser-Technology Maturation program, officials say.
The program calls for industry teams led by Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, and Raytheon to develop cost-effective, combat-ready laser prototypes for guided-missile destroyers the Littoral Combat Ship, and other surface combatants in 2016.
For more information contact the Office of Naval Research online at www.onr.navy.mil.