The laser goes from the weapon of tomorrow to the weapon of today as the US Navy announces the completion of its successful deployment of the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) Laser Weapon System (LaWS). The deployment is the first on a US Naval vessel and took place on the USS Ponce (LPD-15) in the Arabian Gulf from September to November of this year.

Developed as part of the ONR's Solid-State Laser-Technology Maturation program, LaWS is part of the US military's effort to develop a cost-effective, combat-ready laser prototype. While LaWS is not the first laser weapon ever to have been deployed, it is the first on a US Naval vessel and is a considerable advance on previous laser weapons.

According to the Navy, LaWS is capable of handling small attack boats, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and other asymmetric targets, and has a wide range of settings, ranging from the ability to "dazzle" people and sensors without destroying them, to being able to disable or destroy targets. It also has the advantages of being able to engage targets at the speed of light, not requiring ammunition, being able to operate so long as power is available, and has a cost-per-round of a about a dollar per shot – which is a considerable saving in an area when munitions can cost thousands or even millions apiece.

Control system for the laser weapon (Photo: US Navy/John F. Williams)

According to Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, this helps to ensure that the US Navy and Marines are never in a "fair fight."

This year's deployment was a joint mission by ONR, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and private industry. During its time at sea, the laser was used against a variety of targets, such as small boats and other moving targets at sea, and also managed to knock a flying Scan Eagle UAV out of the sky.

The Navy says that the LaWS exceeded expectations not only in reliability, but in maintainability as well, and it integrated seamlessly with the Ponce's existing defense systems. In addition, sailors aboard said that it performed flawlessly in all weathers, including high winds, heat and humidity.

The deployment is part of the system's development following demonstrations in 2011 and 2012. The results of this year's deployment will be used to assess the progress of the program and determine future development timeframes. The ONR sees the system as not only applicable for sea duty, but also as an effective defense against airborne and ground-based weapon systems.

"Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations," says Klunder. "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."

The video below shows the US Navy weapon in action.

Source: US Navy

View gallery - 9 images