Navy Laser Weapon Now Operational — What’s Next?

The U.S. military has taken another giant step into the world of Star Wars with the activation of a new laser weapon that it now considers operational and ready for action.

The remarkable new laser weapon system, or LaWS, was demonstrated aboard the USS Ponce, operating in the Persian Gulf in tests conducted earlier this year. On December 10, the Navy released graphic videos showing the laser’s use against drones, setting them on fire and causing them to fall from the sky. Surface vessels were also shown being hit by lasers, causing explosions and fire.

The laser weapon system is said to be safer than conventional weapons with their explosives and propellants. Additionally, each shot costs less than a dollar, in stark contrast to other weapons that may cost millions of dollars per use. Targets can be hit instantaneously and destroyed by the laser system at distances up to 10 miles.

According to a CNN report, Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder said, “Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations.” He went on to say, “We ran this particular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality.” Klunder went on to say that the captain of the Ponce was authorized to use the weapon in routine defense of his vessel if it comes under threat.

While Wednesday’s development was specific to the Navy, other branches of the armed forces are also preparing to put their own laser systems into action. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Army has developed a laser weapon designed to be truck-mounted and capable of halting multiple incoming drones, aircraft, or cruise missiles. While not ready for activation, the weapon represents important progress in developing advanced laser systems that can be deployed routinely with field units.

At the same time, Lockheed Martin has been developing an airborne laser system for use in combat aircraft. One of Lockheed’s most recent and crucial advances is the design of a directional beam control turret. The turret, developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force, will provide a full range of aiming directions for high energy laser systems on military aircraft. The ability to direct lasers behind combat jets is especially important for protection against missiles tracking from the rear. As reported by Lockheed, the turret system will allow the laser to be pointed in any direction while compensating for the extra aerodynamic influence of the turret as well as turbulence.

Laser power systems and beam technology continues to advance on a parallel track with truck-mounted systems and aircraft performance. While critics believe that useable laser weapons are far off in the future, the Navy’s success in putting a functioning laser defense system into routine operation could well be a sign that laser weapon technology may be seen on the ground and in the air much sooner than anyone expects. The result of this may be a revolution that forces a radical change of the face of warfare.