As of 2014, the U.S. Navy will begin equipping its ships with lasers capable of destroying unmanned aerial vehicles and small boats.
The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) will be mounted on the USS Ponce, which will be deployed to the 5th Fleet region in the Middle East. A video from the Navy shows the laser locking onto an unmanned drone, then destroying it in a burst of flames.
"It operates much like a blowtorch ... with an unlimited magazine," one official said.
"Our directed energy initiatives, and specifically the solid-state laser, are among our highest priority science and technology programs," Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder said in a press release. "The solid-state laser program is central to our commitment to quickly deliver advanced capabilities to forward-deployed forces. This capability provides a tremendously affordable answer to the costly problem of defending against asymmetric threats, and that kind of innovative approach is crucial in a fiscally constrained environment."
The Navy's lasers project has so far cost $40 million and been in the works for six years. Last summer, the Navy tested the gun aboard the destroyer USS Dewey in California. The laser went 12 for 12, taking out both boats and drones.
Though it is unclear exactly how much energy the lasers can produce, Danger Room reports that the beam is likely under 100 kilowatts and is limited to taking out fast-attack boats and small drones. Using the lasers against larger crafts would likely prove fruitless. Other limitations may include its ability to fire in bad weather.
A major benefit of using the lasers is that they are relatively cheap, costing about $1 per weapon round. The unit itself, however, does cost about $32 million.
Overall, the Navy has big plans for the ship-mounted lasers. It foresees the lasers becoming a common feature on naval craft and anticipates the creation of more powerful lasers capable of taking out larger targets.