The latest addition to the growing list of sci-fi tech is the U.S. Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS for short) — the most advanced “directed energy weapon” the military has deployed to date. Check it out in the video below.
Designed to defend ships against drones, small boats, and even submarines, the LaWS is comprised of two parts: a high energy solid-state infrared laser and a computerized targeting/tracking system. Using machine vision, LaWS operators are able to lock onto extremely distant targets, and follow them as they move through the air or water. Once locked on, the laser can fire a 30-kilowatt blast at a target, directed in a beam that’s only about 2 or 3 nanometers in diameter. This extremely focused beam allows LaWS to burn up targets incredibly fast — much faster than previous directed energy weapons the U.S. military has produced.
And it’s not just for blowing stuff up either. The intensity of the laser’s beam can be adjusted to provide different effects. When fired at lower energies, LaWS can be used to “dazzle” or blind an enemy rather than destroy it.
So why build a laser when the Navy already boasts some of the most powerful weaponry in the world? There are a handful of reasons. First of all, firing a laser is drastically less expensive than firing a surface to air missile. The Navy estimates that LaWS costs less than one dollar per shot, whereas standard missiles often cost upward of $750,000 apiece when you account for all the design, manufacturing, transportation, and maintenance that they require. Lasers also pose less of a danger to the ship and its crew, since they can’t explode or detonate accidentally.
LaWS hasn’t been fired on any actual adversaries yet, but was recently deployed in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Ponce, where it has been conducting tests for the past few months. And this is just the beginning. The Office of Naval Research is reportedly has plans to deploy a much more powerful laser (100 to 150-kilowatts) by 2016, so if your world domination plot involve taking on the U.S. Navy in any way, you might want to rethink your plan.