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Originally published December 28 2014

Navy authorizes combat use of deadly laser weapon

by C.L. Doherty

(NaturalNews) Working his controller, he tracks an inflatable rigid-hulled boat on fast approach to his location. Zooming in with the sighting system reveals a cache of ammunition on the craft and a person sitting right next to the stack of crates. Taking aim, he fires his laser and destroys the boxes of ammunition but entirely misses the person sitting just inches away. This scene could be pulled from the latest video game description, but it's not. Instead, it describes the USS Ponce on patrol in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Navy's latest weapon, the 30-Kw Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, was installed on the 43-year-old Ponce for a one-year trial run. After three months of near-daily testing from September through November this year, the LaWS was declared an operational asset for use by the Ponce on December 10. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) gave the ship's captain permission to use LaWS to defend the ship.

USN laser weapon now operational in Persian Gulf

"We're not testing anymore," Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. "It's operating. It's working. As a matter of fact, it's working beyond even our expectations."

The mission of this iteration of LaWS is to defend against drones and small attack vessels. Rules of Engagement (ROE) under the Geneva Convention don't allow for the use of laser weapons against personnel; however, the directed-energy weapon can be used to defeat attacking boats or components of a vessel. The degree of accuracy is one of the key features of this new weapon system.

During a press briefing, Klunder touched on other key aspects of the LaWS. The energy level of this prototype can be adjusted to "blind" an enemy craft if required, rather than destroy it. The high-performance telescope can also be used for reconnaissance to provide information on potential enemy personnel numbers and weapons they are carrying, for example. Calling it the "Hubble telescope at sea," Klunder said it could spot "a bad person on that ship drinking a soda" while pointing at a potential enemy craft in the distance. The actual range of the weapon and telescope are classified.

New system anticipates potential enemy tactics of the future

The price of producing a drone continues to drop, which makes the likelihood of new battlefield tactics likely. A report[PDF] from Center for New American Security writer Paul Scharre outlines tactics that potential enemies could use to overwhelm weapons systems currently in use, or at least overwhelm the Department of Defense (DoD) budget defeating such an attack. A standard missile costs between $750,000 and $2 million per unit, but, according to Klunder, the LaWS can provide the same effect for approximately 59 cents per shot.

The Navy expects to learn many valuable lessons about operating a directed-energy weapon in an operational environment during the coming year. The information gained will have a twofold use: to improve the characteristics of higher-powered laser systems and to provide data to developers of laser systems for other platforms. The U.S. Army is currently developing the High-Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator for use on land-based vehicles, and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) is a high-energy (150 Kw) counter-missile weapon.

Technology development has often touted the ability to improve performance while increasing efficiency, including cost savings; however, this has rarely been the case in the cost-overrun, multi-billion-dollar military weapon development industry. The LaWS prototype is setting a new standard for development cost by integrating the system into existing platforms, i.e. operating naval vessels, and operating costs by using a weapon that costs less than one dollar per shot. That it appears to operate as contracted for is an amazing feat given the number of DoD weapons system projects that still don't give the taxpayer what they paid for even after billions of dollars in cost overruns.


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