The Navy has revealed a radical new laser weapon it says can shoot down missiles, boats and even drones from a warship is already is active service.
The prototype Laser Weapon System was being tested on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, and was so successfully commanders gave the weapon the go-ahead to use it to defend the ship.
Experts say they also found a surprising second use for the system – as a surveillance tool.
Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said that during the test sailors began using the system in ways its developers didn’t fully anticipate, such as for long-range surveillance.
Sailors were able to identify approaching vessels at ranges ‘they have never dreamed of’.
The range of surveillance capabilities is a closely guarded secret.
‘We were calling it a Hubble telescope on the water,’ Adm. Klunder said.
The prototype, an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), was installed on USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf.
The prototype 30 kW-class solid-state laser (SSL) weapon system was developed under the leadership of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
It integrates six commercial 5.4 kW fibre lasers with a beam combiner originated by the Naval Research Laboratory.
Using a video game-like controller, that sailor will be able to manage the laser’s power to accomplish a range of effects against a threat, from disabling to complete destruction.
‘This is a revolutionary capability,’ said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said when the tests began.
‘It’s absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our Sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives.’
Navy leaders have made directed-energy weapons a top priority to counter what they call asymmetric threats, including unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats that could be used to deny U.S. forces access to certain areas.
High-energy lasers offer an affordable and safe way to target these threats at the speed of light with extreme precision and an unlimited magazine, experts say.
‘Our nation’s adversaries are pursuing a variety of ways to try and restrict our freedom to operate,’ Klunder said.
‘Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats.’
As a result of the test, Navy officials said they planned to deploy the weapon into the Middle East for a year aboard the Ponce, allowing sailors to use the system to track potential threats and defend the ship.
‘We have the authorities right now to use it in self-defense,’ Klunder said.
‘If someone was coming to harm the USS Ponce, we could use this laser system on that threat and we would intend to do so.’
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