June 1, 2010

Navy Successfully Tests Laser Cannon

The US Navy announced this week that is has successfully used a laser cannon fitted to its well-known "R2-D2" robotic gun turret installation to shoot down flying robots.

According to the U.S. Naval Sea Systems command (NAVSEA), the hot robot-on-robot action took place at San Nicolas Island off the coast of California on May 24th. 

The Naval spokesman said, "This marks the first Detect-Thru-Engage laser shoot-down of a threat representative target in an over-the-water, combat representative scenario."

Five other unmanned air vehicles have previously been burned down by what is officially known as the Laser Weapon System (LaWS).

"The success of this effort validates the military utility of [rayguns] in a maritime environment. Further development and integration of increasingly more powerful lasers into Surface Navy LaWS will increase both the engagement range and target sets that can be successfully engaged and destroyed," NAVSEA's Captain David Kiel told The Register.

The LaWS is an extra option added to an existing "Phalanx" automatic 20mm cannon.  Phalanx can detect incoming threats like guided missiles with its own radar, aim itself and blast the target out of the sky without input from human operators.  The only control options normally available on the cannon are to switch it on and off, or in some cases to adjust the minimum speed something must be going at before it is fired on.

However, Phalanx is limited in range and must be reloaded often.  It also tends to shower the surrounding neighborhood with shrapnel and when used ashore to defend military bases from mortar and rocket attacks.  This is the reason for the LaWS. 

Theoretically, directed energy weapons would increase the range of the system, however you would still have the gun as a backup if the laser fails to do the job.


On the Net: