Laser beam weaponry was once confined to the fantasies of sci-fi villains. But this summer, the U.S. Navy will turn fiction into reality when it deploys its first laser weapon aboard one of its ships.
The new weapon, dubbed the solid-state Laser Weapons System, promises to be able to incinerate aerial drones and speedboats quickly and on the cheap. That presents a big improvement over today’s weaponry, which typically relies on a finite supply of interceptor missiles that cost roughly $1.4 million a shot. The laser, on the other hand, can be fired continuously and costs just a few bucks per shot. A prototype will be deployed this summer on board the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf.
“It fundamentally changes the way we fight,” Capt. Mike Ziv of the Naval Sea Systems Command told the Associated Press.
The Navy’s newest weapon doesn’t have the orange glow of a laser-torpedo in Battlestar Galactica — it’s actually invisible to the human eye. The laser’s targeting system identifies and locks onto hostile invaders, and the laser directs a beam of energy that can burn through a boat or plane and fry sensitive electronics. It takes just 30 kilowatts of electricity to power the shot, and a single sailor can operate the weapon.
Test footage of the laser in action shows a drone suddenly bursting into flames mid-flight and crashing to the desert floor.
However, the laser isn’t without its weaknesses. Lasers tend to lose their effectiveness when it’s raining or dusty. Cloud cover could also limit the weapon’s range. Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, told the Associated Press, “The Navy says it’s found ways to deal with use of lasers in bad weather, but there’s little doubt that the range of the weapon would be reduced by clouds, dust or precipitation.”
If the laser prototype lives up to expectations in the Persian Gulf, the technology could soon find a place on other Navy warships. So Star Wars fans, you can check one item off a list of futuristic weaponry becoming reality… Unfortunately, there’s no timetable on developing a working lightsaber.