The US Navy on Tuesday announced that its engineers are putting the final touches on a new prototype laser weapon in preparation for a test at sea this summer.
The prototype, a new and improved version of the Navy's Laser Weapon System (LaWS) that has been in development for years, will be installed on the USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf this summer. The technology will allow the military to target threats without the use of bullets and explosives, and be the first weapon of its kind to deploy aboard a Navy ship.
In a statement, Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said the new weapon offers "revolutionary capability."
"It's absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives," he said.
Over the past several months, a team of Navy engineers and scientists have been working to upgrade the LaWS and ensure its targeting and tracking system is in working order. The team managed to consolidate the weapon's control console, so a single officer can operate all functions of the laser and fire at threats, if commanded.
"Using a video game-like controller, that sailor will be able to manage the laser's power to accomplish a range of effects against a threat, from disabling to complete destruction," the Navy said.
In tests over the past several years (see video below), lasers have been proven effective at defeating small boat threats and downing unnamed aircrafts. This summer's deployment is a "crucial" step towards the Navy's goal of outfitting its fleet with laser weapons, the seafaring Armed Forces branch said.
The Navy is looking to find out exactly how accurate and deadly the LaWS is, and plans to use this information to guide the development of better weapons under the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program.
As part of that program, contractors Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, and Raytheon have been tasked with developing cost-effective lasers that could be installed on vessels by 2016.
The Navy said it will decide next year which, if any, laser prototypes should move forward with further testing on its ships.
"Our nation's adversaries are pursuing a variety of ways to try and restrict our freedom to operate," Klunder said.
"Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats."