US to deploy first ship with laser weapon this year

7 Mar 2014

While not of the power of lasers seen in films like Star Wars, the USS Ponce will soon be roaming the seas with a laser defence weapon designed to take on a range of future threats.

Signifying the radical change in how warfare is expected to be undertaken in the coming decades, the US Navy ship’s new first line of defence will fire an invisible laser beam to destroy aerial drones, missiles and small boats, as opposed to larger weaponry designed to take on battleships and submarines.

The technology, known as the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), passed extensive testing by the US Navy Research Lab last summer.

The biggest advantage to the system is its low cost, with the designers estimating it would only cost about US$1 per shot, whereas the old system of the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) was more costly and damaging to the environment because of its used of depleted uranium shells.

In the US Defence Department’s science blog, the team behind the device said the laser’s capabilities have been developed from commercial properties.

“We’ve talked about these technologies for many, many years, but we really are at the point where everything is really lined up. The technology, the support all the way up in our chain of command, as well as through many other organisations, including the (Capitol) Hill. This is the time that these systems are going to transition. This is something I’ve sort of always really wanted to do, and it’s an honour being a part of it,” said US Navy Captain Mike Ziv.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic