Recently the Navy announced that it is finally ready to deploy lasers at sea aboard the USS Ponce, which is to be stationed near the Persian Gulf. The system uses a solid-state fiber laser that took six years and $40 million to build. While the Navy hasn't released the exact power output of the laser, it is anticipated to be approximately 30 kW in power.
While this laser is certainly not the first use ofdirected-energy weapons by the military, it does represent a more practical laser system that has a good chance of success. Previous laser uses by the military have included the Zeus-Hlons 10 kW laser used on a Hum-Vee in the early 1990s to destroy landmines, and several airborne lasers, including the Boeing YAL-1, which date back to the 1980s. These flying laser systems were almost always scrapped for the same reasons; they promised things that they couldn't deliver, while costing way too much money. While it always seemed reasonable that any country that can safely land a man on the moon should be able to shoot enemy missiles out of the sky with a laser beam, the reality has been quite a bit different than that.
In this day oflimited military budgets, it is refreshing to see the Navy deploy a system like the Laser Weapon System (LaWS). The transport ship which this laser is mounted on is designed to land helicopters and transport troops, vehicles, and supplies into a war zone from sea. It certainly is very logical to assume a ship such as this would be under enemy fire when it was performing its duties. The laser will be used to shoot at threatening areal drones, small boats and other air or sea-borne targets, generally within a short range, which the laser should perform well at.
The laser has many advantages in this application; it’s cheaper to operate because it only consumes electricity and doesn't require explosives which can be dangerous to the crew, are expensive, and must be constantly restocked. The Navy says each laser "shot" should cost under a dollar. In addition, the transport ship is a perfect laser platform. It is stable, has plenty of electricity available, and lots of water is nearby for cooling purposes.
While the military has hoped for laser-powered directed-energy weapons since the 1960s and while there have been many test-firings of lasers on land, on land vehicles, and on planes, this may be the first functioning military laser at sea. What also sets this military laser system apart from those of the past may be even more significant: This might be the very first military laser system that meets its expectations.