After seven years and $40 million of development, the US Navy has finally sent its prototype laser weapon, one capable of blowing holes clean through UAVs, on patrol throughout the disputed Persian Gulf.
The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) prototype has been affixed to the bow of the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport ship, since August. Its 30kW beam, generated by focusing the apertures of six solid-state commercial welding lasers onto a single point, is multi-functional—equally capable of dazzling approaching ships and burning UAVs clean out of the sky, while only costing about a dollar a shot, John Miller, the 5th Fleet commander, told Bloomberg News in an email statement last Friday.
The LaWS is expected to remain aboard the Ponce for the next year or so, not so much to counter Iran's continued sabre-rattling regarding the Straight of Hormuz, but to field test the new technology and ensure that it can actually handle the rigours of life aboard a naval vessel.
"How does it operate in that environment — heat, humidity, dust and at sea," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said in a Bloomberg interview earlier this year. "It's got to roll, move around, how much power does it take to sustain it?"
"I have to take it out and get it wet, and the Arabian Gulf's a pretty tough environment," he continued.
Should the LaWS pass this upcoming sea trial, the data generated from the test will be utilised by the likes of BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon to build an even bigger, more powerful class of lasers that should set sail by 2021. And combined with the recent advancements of the terrestrialHEL MD, which is already up to 50kW, we're closer than ever to having GI Joe-style laser battles. [Bloomberg via GCapt - FAS]