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U.S. Navy Deploys Laser Weapon To Persian Gulf

Brianna Sacks |
April 8, 2013 | 7:39 p.m. PDT


(Laser Weapon System aboard the USS Ponce/U.S. Navy)
(Laser Weapon System aboard the USS Ponce/U.S. Navy)
For the first time in history, the United States is deploying a laser attack weapon that has been proven to disable patrol boats and destroy drones.

Known as the Laser Weapon System, the prototype shipboard laser will head to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Ponce as part of an “at-sea demonstration” supposedly meant to warn Iran “not to step up activity in the gulf in the next few months if tensions increase because of sanctions and the impasse in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program," reported the New York Times.

Iranian fast-attack boats have harassed American warships near the Persian Gulf, and the Tehran government is also building a remotely piloted aircraft carrying surveillance pods in that area.

"The future is here," Peter A. Morrison, program officer for ONR's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program, said in a statement. "The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."

ALSO: Iran Open To Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder told NPR News that it only costs about $1 for every shot, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile.

The laser is designed to carry out missions ranging in scale, from burning through a fast attack boat or producing nonlethal bursts to confuse an adversary’s sensors and render them useless without causing any actual harm.The laser also moves at the speed of light, can track fast-moving targets and has a limitless supply of ammunition as long as the ship can generate electricity.

"It operates much like a blowtorch ... with an unlimited magazine," a Navy Official told Fox News.

The prototype cost just under $32 million, Navy officials said, and has successfully destroyed targets in all 12 of its field tests.

There are some concerns with the new technology, however. Navy officials expressed worries with its ability to fire in poor weather conditions and are not yet sure how the laser weapon will fare against fast moving objects, like fighter jets.

ALSO: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Announces New U.S. Navy Strategy

If the prototype is successful when it becomes operational next year, the Navy plans to mount the new weapon permanently on top of the ship with the rest of its major weapon systems, as well as potential other ships.

From the New York Times:

“Equipping Navy surface ships with lasers could lead to changes in naval tactics, ship design and procurement plans for ship-based weapons, bringing about a technological shift for the Navy — a ‘game changer’ — comparable to the advent of shipboard missiles in the 1950s,” said the assessment, by the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress.

The study found that the new high-energy laser “could provide Navy surface ships with a more cost-effective means of countering certain surface, air and ballistic missile targets

The Department of Defense began funding research in high energy lasers soon after the invention of the laser in 1960, and now Navy officials say these directed energy weapons could be the future of warfare.

The Navy released a video of the weapon system during a test aboard the USS Dewey in San Diego. The Navy says it shows a laser beam hitting an unmanned aircraft and after about four seconds, it catches fire and crashes into the ocean.



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