The Navy is arming a ship with a laser attack weapon that has been shown in preliminary tests to disable patrol boats and blind or destroy surveillance drones. The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) only costs roughly $1 per shot and could be employed against fast attack ships or even be used in the future for missile defense. A Tomahawk missile costs roughly $1.3 million and long-range cruise missiles can exceed $20 million each! It should be noted that the solid-state laser itself runs $32 million, so the initial purchase and installation cost is rather high. The USS Ponce will be outfitted with the device in early 2014 for deployment in the Middle East.
What will the Navy think of next? It has been widely known that Navy officials are working on a “rail gun” that uses an electromagnetic current to accelerate a non-explosive bullet at a rate that is said to be several times faster than the speed of sound. This technology isn’t slated to arrive until possibly 2025, though.
The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, Calif., is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid state lasers, utilizing combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory. LaWS can be directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from a MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon system or other targeting source. The Office of Naval Research's Solid State Laser (SSL) portfolio includes LaWS development and upgrades providing a quick reaction capability for the fleet with an affordable SSL weapon prototype. This capability provides Navy ships a method for Sailors to easily defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets.