US Navy to deploy inexpensive laser weapon

The US Navy is going to deploy its first on ship laser next year and has been showing one in action on YouTube.

It is the first ever ship-mounted laser, a disruptive, cutting-edge weapon capable of obliterating small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles with a blast of infrared energy.

They are designed to tackle one of the biggest headaches for capital ships – massed fleets of small boats, like pirates or the Iranian navy. Suicide attacks on bigger boats by such smaller fleets can do a lot of damage because they are harder to hit with conventional weapons.

The shipboard laser which will be installed in early 2014, is a solid-state laser prototype. It will become part of the weaponry of the unfortunately named USS Ponce and packed off to the 5th fleet region in the Middle East.

A Navy press release video shows the laser locks onto an unmanned drone, which bursts aflame in mid-flight. The drone soon catches fire and crashes into the sea below.

These are exactly the sort of small surveillance drones that Iran uses. The Navy says the laser can also take out the small, armoured speed boats that Iran also favours.

Navy researchers say the laser destroys its targets all the time. It can also be used to send non-lethal pulses to boats too.

Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research said that each gun cost $32 million to produce. But it only costs a dollar every time you fire it.

The US Navy has done a little better than the Air Force which recently cancelled project to put nose-mounted lasers on its aircraft.

But there are some concerns that the laser cannot fire in poor weather conditions. It is not certain if it can hit faster moving objects, such as fighters. Its power is too low to hit cruise missiles.