Just as people began to settle down about the futuristic idea of drone warfare, the US Navy has revealed another Star Trek-esque invention: the Laser Weapons System.
The Navy announced today that ships will soon start being equipped with the Laser Weapons System (LaWS), which produces a laser beam so strong it can knock an airplane right out the sky. The LaWS produces a solid-state infrared beam that travels at the speed of light. Preliminary testing for the LaWS recently concluded, and Naval officials report the laser system successfully destroyed 12/12 targets during testing.
“It operates much like a blowtorch ... with an unlimited magazine," one official said. The Navy released training footage in which the laser can be seen igniting and destroying an unmanned drone in the sky.
“The future is here," said Peter A. Morrision, a program officer for the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program. "The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."
In addition to possessing video game-like abilities, the LaWS has some financial appeal as well. The cost to fire a shot from the laser is around $1. When compared to weapons like the Gatling gun, whose rounds costs thousands of dollars each, the LaWS seems like a bargain.
"Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability," said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mathew Klunder. The LaWS costs $32 million to produce. While the production price seems steep, $32 million doesn’t sound so bad when compared to the $1.5 billion cost to produce one of the Air Force’s now defunct Air Borne Lasers.
The LaWS will first be installed on the USS Ponce to undergo what the Navy is calling an “at sea demonstration.” The Ponce will be deployed to the Persian Gulf, where Iranian surveillance drones and speed boats frequently approach US ships. Naval officials added that the laser system will soon be able to destroy incoming missiles.
The fact that the LaWS system is being mounted on the USS Ponce shouldn’t go unnoted, either. The Navy recently spent millions fitting the ship to be a launching pad for drones, helicopters, and commandos. The Ponce will be the Pentagon’s first ever floating staging base for military operations. All that is to say the LaWS isn’t going on an obscure vessel for non-combat training. It’s being sent to an active military zone on one of America’s most cutting-edge ships. That’s a big indicator for the kinds of plans the Navy has for the LaWS going forward.
If the Laser Weapons System sounds ultramodern to you, use this news to prepare yourself for the future. The Navy is also developing a free-electron laser and an electro-magnetic rail gun. The free-electron laser is capable of burning through thousands of pounds of raw steel, while the rail gun can propel bullets at several times the speed of sound. The two weapons are expected to be implemented around the start of 2020.
But for now, we’ll have to settle for 2013, a time when news articles already sound eerily similar to science-fiction novels.