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World
19 Jul 2017

US deploys world's first laser weapon on warship

The US has deployed the world's first active laser weapon on board a US Navy warship in the Persian Gulf.

The Laser Weapons System (LaWS) has been deployed aboard the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship.

It is no longer the stuff of science fiction, nor is it experimental.

LaWS is ready to be fired at targets if ordered to.

In context

Laser weapons now a reality

Details

Each laser shot costs just a dollar

"It is throwing massive amounts of photons at an incoming object," said Lt. Cale Hughes, laser weapons system officer.

The LaWS, which cost around $40 million, requires only electricity (which it derives from its own generator) and a crew of three to operate.

Hughes said each shot costs around a dollar.

Compared to this, missile systems cost millions of dollars.

Silent and deadly

"It operates in an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum so you don't see the beam, it doesn't make any sound… and it's incredibly effective at what it does," said Hughes. The US Navy says the LaWS is very precise, limiting possibility of collateral damage.

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How the laser weapon works

Hughes said while using LaWS, operators don't have to worry about things like the wind or range.

"We're able to engage the targets at the speed of light," he said.

Hughes said a target is shot down by just pointing and focusing on it.

The target is heated to a temperature of thousands of degrees and destroyed.

What's in store for the future

The operational LaWS weapon is meant to disable or destroy small boats or aircraft which it has done very effectively. The US is developing a more powerful, second-generation system capable of destroying larger and more significant targets: missiles. Information on this remains classified.

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