The Navy Is Going To Test A Big Laser Soon

150 kilowatts of directed energy, pointed at an unknown date on a calendar.

Laser Weapon System On The USS Ponce

Laser Weapon System On The USS Ponce

Laser Weapon System On The USS PonceUS Naval Research, YouTube Screenshot

Damage done by laser weapons is a function of power and time. The longer a laser can stay on a target, like a drone or an incoming missile, the more damage it can do. The more powerful that laser is, the less time it needs to spend burning its target. The U.S. Navy already has a 30-kilowatt laser mounted on a ship. Yesterday, at a summit on directed energy weapons in Washington, D.C., the Navy announced it plans to go bigger: 150 kilowatts.

The Office of Naval Research “will perform a shipboard test of a 150-killowatt laser weapon system in the near future,” said [vice chief of naval operations] Adm. Bill Moran during a speech at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Directed Energy Summit, which was held in Washington, D.C. The Navy’s 30-kilowatt laser weapon is currently onboard the USS Ponce. The system, which has been used operationally in the Persian Gulf, offers military leaders precision accuracy at a low cost, Moran said. The laser weapon system, or LaWs, "has an extremely low-cost per engagement ratio,” he said. “We’re spending pennies on the dollars … every time we use that capability.”

The lasers previously demonstrated on the USS Ponce are powerful enough to burn through slow-flying targets, but there's no guarantee that drones in future wars will be as lackadaisical as the drones of today.

Lasers are a part of every service's plan for the future. The Army plans to have lasers in development by 2023, with tests of lasers carried by attack helicopters this summer. The Air Force wants lasers on large planes by 2022, and plans to use lasers sooner than that to clear runways of landmines. The Marine Corps, together with the Navy, is developing truck-mounted lasers, to protect troops driving over land.

The battlefields of the futures could be defined by beams of powerful, directed energy. At least, if the whole weapon concept doesn't go up in smoke.