Navy deploys first anti-drone laser weapon in Persian Gulf

The Laser Weapon System could be used to knock out drones and small boats

Navy LaWS laser weapon

The U.S. Navy has deployed its first laser weapon on the amphibious transport ship USS Ponce patrolling in the Persian Gulf.

Initial deployment of the prototype Laser Weapon System, of LaWS, first reported by Bloomberg News, came in late August. The 30-kilowatt laser weapon could be used to knock out enemy drones or small boats.

Naval Sea Systems Command in Dahlgren, Va., had been testing the laser weapon on its Potomac River Test Range in advance of deploying the solid-state laser aboard the Ponce. The first images of the system deployed on the ship were released in mid-November.

Navy officials have touted the system as an "extremely affordable, multi-mission weapon" since it can be fired as long as electrical power is available. It would also eliminate the need to carry propellants and explosives aboard warships.

The laser system also gives crews the "ability to control a laser weapon's output and perform actions ranging from non-lethal disabling and deterrence all the way up to destruction," program official stressed.

Navy officials told Bloomberg the bow-facing weapon could be fired in different modes, including a warning flash or as a destructive beam designed to take out small targets.

The Navy hopes to deploy the laser weapon across the fleet as early as 2017.

Lasers, or directed-energy systems, have become a key part of plans for future weapons systems, particularly for use against drones and other small crafts. Although they are fairly costly and difficult to develop, once deployed they can be very cost-effective. Firing a laser would cost only several dollars per shot, as opposed to the tens or hundreds of thousands—for an interceptor missile, even a million—involved in firing conventional weapons.

The service also is looking to deploy directed-energy weapons on helicopters as well as aboard ground vehicles. The Naval Air Systems Command released a solicitation in July for its High Energy Laser Weapons System development program. According to the solicitation, the airborne laser weapon would be used in both defensive and offensive applications. 

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