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Navy's New Cost-Saving Weapon: A Laser That Can Shoot Drones From the Sky


"...a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."

The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) currently installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, Calif., is a technology demonstrator built from commercial fiber solid-state lasers strung together and controlled and directed onto targets by an MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Part of the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort, LaWS is an affordable solid-state laser weapon prototype for Navy ships to help Sailors defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets. (Photo: U.S. Navy/ John F. Williams)

The Navy announced that it is set to deploy one of its "directed energy initiatives" -- in this case a solid-state laser on board a ship that can fire at boat swarms or shoot drones from the sky.

"The solid-state laser program is central to our commitment to quickly deliver advanced capabilities to forward-deployed forces," Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said in a statement. "This capability provides a tremendously affordable answer to the costly problem of defending against asymmetric threats, and that kind of innovative approach is crucial in a fiscally constrained environment."

The laser is said to operate for less than $1 per shot, compared to hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile. Not only more cost-effective than the use of missiles, the Navy considers its Laser Weapon System safer to have on a ship as it operates without propellants and explosives.

(Photo: U.S. Navy/John F. Williams)

"The future is here," Peter Morrision, program officer for ONR's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program, said according to the Navy's press release. "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."

Another benefit of the laser is that the crew will be able to control its intensity, ranging from an energy beam that can disable to one that can destroy.

"We expect that in the future, a missile will not be able to simply outmaneuver a highly accurate, high-energy laser beam traveling at the speed of light," Klunder said.

Although it won't be deployed until 2014 on the USS Ponce -- this is two years ahead of schedule -- the Navy did issue a demonstration video where it shot a drone from the sky while the laser was still temporarily installed on the USS Dewey.

(Image: YouTube screenshot)

The video also has an animation showing exactly how the laser works. Check out the footage:



(H/T: NPR)

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