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U.S. Navy to deploy Laser Weapon System on warship

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April 9, 2013

Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS D...

Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105)

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The U.S. Navy took a step farther away from John Paul Jones and closer to James T. Kirk as it announced that a solid-state laser weapon will be deployed on a U.S. Navy ship in fiscal year 2014. The announcement that the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) will deployed on board USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15) two years ahead of schedule was made on Monday at the Sea-Air-Space exposition, National Harbor, Maryland. The deployment is the latest in a line of recent recent high-energy laser demonstrations carried out by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Naval Sea Systems Command.

LaWS uses a fiber-optic,solid-state laser as part of a system developed at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. It’s not intended to replace any weapons on board the Ponce, but rather acts as an adjunct weapon. Ultimately, LaWS will be paired with a rapid-fire anti-missile system, such as the Mk 15 Phalanx CIWS and its radar system.

Obviously, the main attraction of the laser is its ability to destroy targets at long range at the speed of light, and LaWS has many advantages as both an offensive and defensive weapon. The Navy envisions it being used for precision and covert engagements, starting fires, and what it calls “graduated lethality.” It also sees it as a countermeasure against UAVs, missiles and swarms of small boats.

LaWS undergoing shore testing

"We expect that in the future, a missile will not be able to simply outmaneuver a highly accurate, high-energy laser beam traveling at the speed of light," Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said.

LaWS also has the advantage of having a “deep magazine,” meaning that it doesn't need propellants or explosives and can keep firing as long as a power source is available. Also, unlike conventional weapons, each “round” comes at a bargain price. "Our conservative data tells us a shot of directed energy costs under $1," Klunder said. "Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability."

However, since flat-out fighting is rare in naval operations, less lethal applications for the laser system are more likely to be used on a daily basis and therefore of equal value. The optics that LaWS uses for its beams make it ideal for targeting, and the laser can also heat targets, making them easier for infrared tracking to lock on. In addition, the laser can dazzle pilots and electronics of aircraft, surface vehicles, or submarines. Electro-optical sensors and infrared missile systems are particularly vulnerable. LaWS also works as a 21st century version of a shot across the bow, by shining an intense beam of light warning the target that a lethal blast could follow instantly.

For all its advantages, LaWS has its limitations. For example, the rate of fire is restricted by the time needed to illuminate a target and then moving on to the next one, so the system can be overwhelmed. Also, lasers aren't ideal in all situations or against all targets, so it needs to be teamed with another weapon that can put lots of iron into the air at the same time.

LaWs optics

LaWs optics

The deployment is partly a demonstration, but it’s also part of the testing and development program. Areas that need addressing are developing the gimbal mounting for the laser, hardening the hardware for a sea environment, dealing with optical turbulence, and evaluating how to use the laser in less-than lethal tasks.

Monday’s announcement was accompanied by the release of a video showing LaWS in action against a drone, which can be seen below.

Source: U.S. Navy

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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15 Comments

This belongs on a ship.

No weight restrictions.

Access to large power source

Flexibility and room for mounting.

Nairda
9th April, 2013 @ 06:01 pm PDT

So how the heck does this weapon work with sea spay, sea salt and seagull crap all over the optics ? And I guess they don't plan on using this weapon in the rain or light drizzle either. Why wouldn't the Army be getting a weapon like this considering we've been fighting land wars for the past ten years ? Sometime the govt is completely stupid ........

RESISTANCE
9th April, 2013 @ 08:23 pm PDT

re; RESISTANCE

While the weapon is not in use it will be kept under a sealed cover and when open clean air will be blown around it to keep dust an moisture off it.

It is too bulky for it to be practical for mobile land warfare.

...Usually but not about this.

Slowburn
9th April, 2013 @ 11:46 pm PDT

So, we'll be having reports of commercial airliners and satellites disappearing, just because they happened to be a few miles or hundred miles beyond the drone they were practicing with.

999 HOT
10th April, 2013 @ 01:29 am PDT

Well the first paragraph of this article has me baffled!!

What has the bass player with Led Zeppelin go to do with the US Navy?

Or is this some kind of witty reference to a Led Zep song?

UncleToad
10th April, 2013 @ 02:08 am PDT

@UncleToad

John Paul Jones was a sailor from Scotland, and fought in the American Revolution in the Navy.

Nicolaas
10th April, 2013 @ 04:12 am PDT

I bet deployment is being "pushed forward" because of the N. Korean missile threats...

CaptD
10th April, 2013 @ 09:17 am PDT

The real question is: Can it stop Godzilla?

The Grim Snark
10th April, 2013 @ 09:50 am PDT

Well let's see. If I give the underside of my fighter aircraft a mirror polish will this thing still work? What about rain, hail, fog or just ducking into a cloud bank? Everything it can do can be easily countered, so what's the point? Here's another multi billion dollar waste of the taxpayer's money. Just so the boys at sea have a new toy...

JAT
10th April, 2013 @ 10:55 am PDT

re; JAT

If the laser system cons the enemy into putting a mirror finish on their equipment the laser having never fired a war shot paid for itself handsomely.

Slowburn
10th April, 2013 @ 06:09 pm PDT

What I've always been curious about is how the US got around the Geneva convention that prevents use of energy weapons.

The Russians also have this tech, and sound energy weapons, but they are never revealed because of backlash from the rest of the world.

Nairda
10th April, 2013 @ 09:49 pm PDT

re; Nairda

The USofA did not ratify the treaty and is therefor not bound to it.

Slowburn
11th April, 2013 @ 11:10 am PDT

I am the only one that sees a huge issue here?

With reference to Startrek (which is a good one) there is a huge difference.

In that on Startrek they where on a SPACESHIP and in deep space - nothing else was around but 'deep space' and used when battling other aliens also with laser beam technology.

On the Earth there are other none threatening living creatures that also use the water and sky - what they now become just collateral damage?

The idea of saving money is totally a ploy, we are talking about the military after all.

Which leads me to wonder really why? Are they expecting an alien invasion some day soon? lol

uhura
11th April, 2013 @ 01:59 pm PDT

To me the idea of using laser technology to kill people is hardly an advancement. Scientists create new technologies and then we have engineers who work to turn them into weapons of mass destruction for the military to use. Where would we be without these wonderful engineers creating ever more effective killing machines?

Calson
11th April, 2013 @ 05:06 pm PDT

re; uhura

The military and NASA are the only branches of the USofA Government expected to operate within their budget.

Do you really believe that the laser does more damage to the environment than throwing around heavy metal projectiles that always come back down?

re; Calson

Lasers were invented by military researchers all the laser tools & toys are the spinoffs.

Slowburn
11th April, 2013 @ 07:37 pm PDT
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