The U.S. Navy will deploy a new “drone-killing laser” this summer on a ship bound for the Middle East, giving it the ability to warn and, if necessary, destroy any fast moving attacks that threaten its vessels.
Amphibious transport dock ship the USS Ponce will be the first to receive the device, known as a Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, which can fire a highly concentrated laser beam at an incoming aircraft or boat and totally destroy it. Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s top officer, first unveiled the weapon at a conference last April, following successful tests in which it shot down a drone in flight.
Navy Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research, unveiled more details about LaWS on Wednesday, including its range of settings reminiscent of “phasers” from the science fiction series “Star Trek.”
“We put it out there. It’s ready. It’s mature,” said Klunder, while speaking at the Bloomberg Government Defense Summit in Washington, D.C.
“The capability that goes into that system is scalable,” he said. “I can go nonlethal, all the way up to lethal.”
Klunder offered the example of a ship in, for example, the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran. The 42-year-old Ponce would be able to fire a non-lethal “dazzling flash” at an incoming aircraft or ship, warning it to change its course. If ignored, the Ponce could fire a second warning shot in addition to broadcasting messages instructing the intruding vessel to change course.
“At that point, we’ve given them lots of warning – non-lethal – so we go to ‘third step,’” he said. “Scale that level to lethal, and you’re gone.”
“That’s the kind of way we’ll use this system, with the rules of engagement,” Klunder said.
LaWS will be available to use as soon as the Ponce sails this summer, and will be used against “any threat that would be either harming our ships or the global commerce,” he added.
The laser costs roughly $1 per shot, Navy officials have said. The system has been in development for roughly 7 years at a cost of $40 million, reports Wired.com.