The US Navy’s new laser weapon system (LaWS) will cost much less to build, install and fire than traditional multimillion-dollar missiles, which is critical in the face of looming Pentagon budget cuts.
"At less than a dollar per shot, there's no question about the value LaWS [Laser Weapon System] provides," Chief of naval research, Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder said. "With affordability a serious concern for our defense budgets, this will more effectively manage resources to ensure our Sailors and Marines are never in a fair fight."
LaWS is a cutting-edge weapon that brings significant new capabilities to America's Sailors and Marines and was for the first time successfully deployed and operated aboard a naval vessel in the Arabian Gulf, according to an official statement from the US Navy.
While laser weapons offer new levels of precision and speed for naval warfighters, they also bring increased safety for ships and crews, as lasers are not dependent on the traditional propellant and gunpowder-based ordnance found on ships. Lasers run on electricity and can be fired as long as there is power.
They also cost less to build, install and fire than traditional kinetic weapons -- for example a multimillion-dollar missile.
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.
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 what are termed "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 vessels such as guided-missile destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship in the early 2020s.
Researchers say the revolutionary technology breakthroughs demonstrated by LaWS will ultimately benefit not only U.S. Navy surface ships, but also airborne and ground-based weapon systems.
"Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations," Klunder stated. "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."
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The US Navy will outfit the USS Ponce, an amphibious vessel with a Laser Weapon System (LaWS) and will begin sea testing in the Persian Gulf later this year heralding an era of practical laser weapons which may ultimately replace short range cannons and missiles. After it completes testing it should be capable of shooting down drones or disabling small attack boats at an energy cost of just $1 per shot
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