Sunday, April 14, 2013

That Awesome New Laser Thingy the Navy Just Revealed

The U.S. Navy's athletic cup doth runneth over.
In keeping with its ongoing mission to establish itself as the most consistently badass branch of the United States Armed Forces, the U.S. Navy trotted out a schnazzy new solid-state laser cannon this week. The  Office of Naval Research's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program just released footage of the cannon's prototype successfully shooting down a drone, accompanied by the statement "The future is here". All in all, I think it's safe to say that they're proud of themselves.

This particular video represents the successful third test (of three) of this new weapon. In it, the prototype cannon is mounted on the USS Dewey, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. Now that it has blazed through the testing phase (pun intended), the Navy intends to see that the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is put into field testing. Its first installment will be on the USS Ponce, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock currently hanging out with the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. The cannon could be in service as soon as October of this year (though it will most likely be showing up in early 2014).

The USS Ponce. Bein' a boss. This is its "I'm getting a laser cannon" face.

While the laser is presently only able to shoot down drones in testing areas, the hope is to refine the technology to the point where it can be used on faster, more evasive aircraft, and potentially even incoming ICBMs and small, "fast-swarming" enemy warships.

In addition to its potential to become a devastatingly effective new weapon, the LaWS stands to also significantly reduce costs for the military. A single cannon such as the one in the video costs a touch over $30 million, which isn't terribly expensive in the grand scheme of military budgets. A single Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly $1.4 million, and unlike the cannon, is only good for the one shot (but what a shot it is). The cannon can not only be fired more than once, but can also do so for roughly $1 in electricity costs. In the magical post-sequester world, a $1 laser cannon blast is pretty tough to beat.

Too bad the Congressional Research Service made the point that it "might not work well, or at all, in rain or fog." But then, it's not like the Middle East gets a whole lot in the way of rain. It may not be an "all-weather solution," but this lovely little cannon should find itself reasonably suited to the climate of its first deployment.

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