The U.S Navy’s 30-kilowatt solid-state laser aboard the USS Ponce is now being fired in operational scenarios by sailors in the Persian Gulf, marking the first-ever deployment of a sea-based directed energy weapon.
The Navy’s Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, uses heat energy from lasers to disable or destroy targets fast, slow, stationary and moving targets. This, according to Military.com. The system has successfully incinerated drones and other targets in tests shots, and is now operational aboard an amphibious transport dock, the USS Ponce.
LaWS is designed to destroy threats for about 59-cents per shot, an amount that is exponentially lower that the hundreds of thousands or millions needed to fire an interceptor missile such as the Standard Missile-2, explains Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.
While at sea, sailors have been using the LaWS for targeting and training exercises every day. Navy sailors and engineers have discovered some unanticipated intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance value from the laser weapons system by using its long-range telescope to scan for targets.
Navy leaders said the LaWS system is effectively integrated with the ship’s radar systems and weapons such as the Close-In-Weapons-System, or CIWS, a technology designed to fire small interceptors able to defend the ship against approaching enemy fire.
“So far it has exceeded expectations. Went to sea in September and the laser has been operational since. It has been integrated with the ship’s navigation systems, radar and Close-In-Weapons System. We put it in a demanding marine environment,” said Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, deputy commander, ship design, Integration and naval engineering at Naval Sea Systems Command.
While laser weapons offer new levels of precision and speed for naval warfighters, Navy officials said they also bring increased safety for ships and crews, as lasers are not dependent on the traditional propellant and gunpowder-based ordnance found on ships. Lasers run on electricity and can be fired as long as there is power.
Klunder said the system is durable and able to function in various weather conditions. He explained that the LaWS functioned extremely well following a dust storm in theater.
Along with analyzing data from the weapon’s operational use, Navy officials are also working on a much more powerful, next-generation 100 to 150 kilowatt laser weapon to be ready by 2016 or 2017, Klunder added.