It’s not quite Star Wars, but laser weapons are real. The US Navy just demonstrated that capability when it downed a drone in tests of a new ship-mounted laser in the Pacific Ocean.
On Friday the Navy announced the recent successful test of a new solid-state laser aboard the amphibious transport ship USS Portland. The 150-kilowatt-class Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD), made by Northrup Grumman, took the drone out in seconds. This was the first use of such a high-energy class solid-state laser, according to the Navy. “With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy,” a Navy official said in a press release.
— U.S. Pacific Fleet (@USPacificFleet) May 22, 2020
The US military is pursuing lasers as a more effective and economical means to deal with new and numerous threats coming at its warships. Each shot of the LWSD costs just a few dollars, says Northrup Grumman. That’s a sharp contrast to the cost of deploying a missile to take out an increasing array of smaller attack threats such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and small armed boats. (The US military has also developed drone-specific defensive weapons, such as a small jet-powered interceptor.)
“By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs and small crafts, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,” said US Navy Captain Karrey Sanders, the ship’s commanding officer, in the press release.
Other lasers in the military
The Navy aims to deploy lasers against other threats as well, including long-range missiles, which could overwhelm the defenses of a carrier group in the heat of combat.
This is not the Navy’s first laser canon, but it’s a biggie. The USS Ponce, for instance, carries a 30-kilowatt class Laser Weapon System (LaWS).
Lasers aren’t limited to the Navy. The US Army is also developing a laser weapon called the Indirect Fires Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL). It may reach up to 300 kilowatts in power and will be able to take out rockets, artillery, and mortars.