U.S. Navy Tests World's First Laser Weapons System

July 18, 2017

The U.S. Navy recently tested the world's first-ever active laser weapons system, which is now deployed and ready for war.

The Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, is now deployed aboard the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, where CNN was able to witness the system destroy a drone in flight and moving targets on the Persian Gulf.

The system has special materials that release photons, and, at the speed of light, it silently hits an object, burning it to a temperature of thousands of degrees. Each strike travels 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM.

In one test, a drone's wing caught fire after being hit by the LaWS, leading it to crash into the sea.

"We don't worry about wind, we don't worry about range, we don't worry about anything else. We're able to engage the targets at the speed of light," Lt. Cale Hughes, a laser weapons system officer, told CNN.

"We're doing that engagement at the speed of light so it really is a point and shoot—we see it, we focus on it, and we can negate that target," he added.

Its cost per use is also quite impressive for such a revolutionary new weapon: approximately $1 per shot. The $40 million system requires electrical power and a three-man team.

The LaWS is also extremely accurate. The system can target a single component of an enemy target, such as a boat's engine, and make it catch fire so that the entire vessel does not have to be destroyed and the Navy can avoid collateral damage.

"I can aim that at any particular spot on a target, and disable and destroy as necessary," said Christopher Wells, captain of the USS Ponce. "It reduces collateral damage—I no longer have to worry about rounds that may go beyond the target and potentially hurt or damage things that I don't want to hurt or damage."

The system, whose strikes are silent and invisible, is currently active at sea, ready on the USS Ponce for an enemy. It is primarily intended to take on drones, aircraft, and small vessels that could be used in an attack from countries such as Iran and North Korea.

One of the weapon's biggest strengths is its versatility.

"It's not a niche weapon system like some other weapons that we have throughout the military where it's only good against air contacts, or it's only good against surface targets, or it's only good against, you know, ground-based targets," Wells said. "In this case this is a very versatile weapon, it can be used against a variety of targets."

A second generation LaWS system is currently in development, CNN reported. The newer system is believed to be intended to take on faster targets such as incoming missiles.

Published under: Navy , Weapons