US Navy Wants Laser Weapon System On Ships By 2014
April 9, 2013

US Navy Wants Laser Weapon System On Ships By 2014

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

[ Watch the Video: Laser Weapon System On USS Dewey ]

The US Navy believes the time to embrace the future is now as it looks to mount a weaponized laser on one of its ships. The laser weapon system, or LaWS, has been in testing for several years and now the pentagon believes it can effectively be used to bring down slow-flying drones and injure nearby ships. The Navy says it plans to have the laser installed by fiscal 2014, though some have questioned the expense and the reliability of such a weapons system.

LaWS is a little less “Star Wars” and much closer to that of a child using a mirror to reflect sunlight and torment an anthill. The solid state laser resembles a telescope and can track a target before firing an intense beam of infrared light in its direction. In videos released by the US Navy, a pilotless drone is seen flying through the air then bursting into flames and crashing into the sea.

One Navy official described it as “a blowtorch with an unlimited magazine,” according to

The Navy is pitching this laser as a win-win for both national security and the national economy. Not only is this laser effective at bringing down enemy targets, it´s also said to be quite cost effective. It´s this latter point which the Navy has chosen to highlight.

"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,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder in a press statement.

"Our conservative data tells us a shot of directed energy costs under $1. 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 Adm. Klunder.

The initial cost of the laser, however, could be troubling for those looking to restrict military spending. The first LaWS prototype cost nearly $32 million according to Navy officials. On the other hand, if further testing proves the worthiness of the laser and the Navy gives the go ahead to order more lasers for an entire fleet, this cost is expected to go down.

The Navy claims LaWS has also been found to be quite effective and reliable. In 12 out of 12 tests, LaWS was able to destroy its targets 100 percent of the time, reported the NY Times.

The laser could also be used to communicate with other vessels or even weaken enemy instrumentation rather than burn straight through their aircraft and ships.

Though LaWS has proven itself in multiple tests, there are concerns about its effectiveness in certain situations, specifically in times of bad weather or when targeting quick-moving aircraft or incoming missiles.

Research has shown that the laser does not perform well in dust storms or rain as the beams of light can be deflected by particles in the air. Furthermore, LaWS is a “line of sight” weapon, meaning the target must be in full view before it can be immobilized. As a laser is basically a concentrated beam of light, enemies could take simple precautions to protect their drones and ships from LaWS. For instance, these vehicles could be covered in a reflective shield which could deflect the beam.

Despite these limitations, the Navy believes the time is now to begin equipping naval ships with cutting-edge and state-of-the-art weaponry.

"The future is here," said Peter A. Morrision, program officer for ONR's Sold-State Laser Technology Maturation Program, in a statement. "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."

The Navy plans to install the first laser on the USS Ponce. This ship will then be sent out to the fifth fleet region in the Middle East to gain some real-world experience.