The Navy announced that it had deployed and fired a laser weapon this fall aboard a warship in the Persian Gulf. During a series of test shots, the laser hit and destroyed targets mounted atop a small boat, blasted a six-foot drone from the sky, and destroyed other moving targets.
“This is the first time in recorded history that a directed energy weapons system has ever deployed on anything,” Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, told reporters at the Pentagon. “A lot of people talk about it—we decided to go do it.”
The Navy’s laser weapon system—LaWS, in sea-service jargon—was fired from the USS Ponce, a one-time amphibious ship that was converted to an “afloat forward staging base” in 2012 and assigned to the 5th Fleet in Bahrain. Firing a laser from the surface of the Persian Gulf is challenging because heat, humidity, dust and salt water can reduce its power.
The Navy spent about $40 million over the past seven years developing LaWS, which actually consists of six commercial welding lasers lashed together and aimed at the same point. It has proven effective at ranges of up to about a mile.