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Laser Fired From US Navy Ship

April 11, 2011

A high-energy laser (HEL) has been fired by the U.S. Navy from one of its ships for the first time.

Researchers used the HEL to disable a boat by setting fire to its engines off the coast of California.

“From a science and technology point of view, the marriage of directed energy and kinetic energy weapon systems opens up a new level of deterrence into scalable options for the commander,” Peter Morrison from the Office of Naval Research said in a statement.

Similar systems were previously tested on land, but moist sea air presented an extra challenge as it reduces a beam’s power.

The Navy said that lasers could eventually be used to protect vessels from small attack boats.

The U.S. military has been experimenting with laser weapons since the 1970s .

“We are learning a ton from this program””how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons,” Morrison said. “All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome.”

Early systems used large lasers, which tended to produce dangerous waste gases.

Scientists have developed solid state lasers that combine large numbers of compact beam generators, similar to LEDs.

Much of the development of HELs has focused on shooting down missiles or hitting land-based targets

According to Morrison, the latest round of tests showed its wider possibilities.

“This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships.”

“There is still much work to do to make sure it’s done safely and efficiently,” he said in a statement.

The system would be restricted to military use only, although merchant shipping has also expressed interest in the technology.

BAE Systems announced a laser in 2010 that would use light to temporarily blind pirates.

The technology is still in the testing stage, ahead of a commercial launch.

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