The US Navy has deployed its first ever laser weapon capable of taking down drones and ‘other small vessels’ on a ship in the Persian Gulf.
The laser cannon has been equipped on the USS Ponce since August this year, officials told Bloomberg, although so far it has only destroyed “threat-representative” drones in controlled tests between 2009 and 2012.
Such a weapon has been years in development and a military dream for far longer, providing a precise and fast (it literally fires at the speed of light) way to engage cheap, anti-ship weapons for the cost of a dollar a shot.
The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) can be fired at a number of intensities varying from weak beams intended to dazzle enemy combatants to full, 30-kilowatt ‘rounds’ that are capable of setting smaller targets on fire at a distance of 10 miles.
Although such laser systems and their 5p-coin sized beams are useless against aircraft or even anti-ship missiles, the Navy has proven their ability against drones and fast attack-ships.
Coincidentally, the laser-equipped USS Ponce is being deployed off the coast of Iran, a country that is known to favour 'swarm' tactics in its Navy, overwhelming enemy craft through a combination of speed, manoeuvrability and numbers.
US Admiral Jonathan Greenert has denied that the laser was specifically designed to counter Iran’s navy - “I wouldn’t target a country for a weapon, nor would I preclude putting together a weapons system for a country by itself,” he said – but that it is simply a “worthwhile experiment”.