Video: US Navy’s new frickin’ laser weapon pretty frickin’ cool

posted at 11:21 am on April 9, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

All right, the US Navy’s latest experimental weapons system isn’t attached to sharks, but it’s still pretty frickin’ cool.  The prosaically named Laser Weapons System (LaWS — no “frickin’”) got a public rollout yesterday with a video released by the Pentagon demonstrating the power of its fully operational Death Star — er, surface attack system.  Not only is it frickin’ cool, it’s also relatively frickin’ inexpensive:

 The weapon is being billed as a step toward transforming warfare. Since it runs on electricity, it can fire as long as there is power at a cost of less than $1 dollar per shot.

“Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, said in a statement.

The prototype, which one official said cost between $31 million and $32 million to make, will be installed aboard the USS Ponce, which is being used as a floating base in the Middle East, sometime in fiscal year 2014, which begins in October.

At $32 million an installation — a price that will come down as mass production ramps up — that’s probably one of the less expensive weapons systems we’ve developed in recent years, too.  The system isn’t perfect, or even widely applicable, though.  Its lower-power laser will only work against light construction, and may have issues in inclement weather.  However, as Wired’s Spencer Ackerman points out, it is ideally suited for one particular theater of potential frickin’ conflict:

It just so happens that the LaWS’s ability to track and kill surveillance drones and swarming fast boats matches with Iran’s development of surveillance drones and swarming fast-boat tactics. And it just so happens that the Ponce will spend most of 2014 deployed in Iran’s backyard. …

A lot about that cost figure depends on successful integration aboard a ship’s deck; successfully drawing from a ship’s power without compromising the propulsion systems; and the cost of fuel per shot. And it also factors out the cost of the weapon itself. But if it turns out to be genuine, the Navy will have developed the rare high-end weapons system that undercuts the cost of adversary weapons.

The big concern in surface warfare is that anti-ship missiles are way cheaper than ships. The Navy can’t make ships cheaper. (Let’s be real.) But it might be able to develop a countermeasure to those anti-ship weapons cheaper than those weapons themselves. As the Navy sees it, that’s the ultimate promise of laser guns: A weapon that undercuts the increasing cheapness and availability of powerful missiles and robots. It’s by no means certain that the Navy can realize the promise. But it’s now fully committed to trying.

The Iranian strategy was to defeat massive power with nimble speed and numbers.  The LaWS system responds to that threat with inexpensive yet effective weapons systems that can complement existing countermeasures.  If nothing else, it shows that the Pentagon has thought outside the box about this particular theater of operations, and not just in regard to Iran.  The lesson of the USS Cole was that small craft can exploit slow defense responses and a reluctance to engage with heavy weapons on an unknown threat.  The laser cannon also provides a good alternative to lower-scale terrorist and pirate attacks.  And if this system is successful in its deployments, we probably can expect higher-power versions of LaWS to enhance or replace more expensive weapons systems on surface ships, and perhaps other craft as well.

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Nice demo on a 60mph drone. But does it work on a 1000mph aircraft or 2000mph missles?? Just askin’ ….

KenInIL on April 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Nice demo on a 60mph drone. But does it work on a 1000mph aircraft or 2000mph missles?? Just askin’ ….

KenInIL on April 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Information that a lot of unfriendly nations would really like to have as well, hey, here’s an idea… Why don’t we just give all of our enemies the full operational specifications for our news weapons systems. What could possibly go wrong, right?

SWalker on April 9, 2013 at 5:52 PM

The prototype, which one official said cost between $31 million and $32 million to make,

That’s the gubmint cost. Whats that …$4500 bucks in the basement? Looks like you need an old projection TV and an enemy flying balsa wood airplanes.

BL@KBIRD on April 9, 2013 at 5:59 PM

Your ability to reflect substantial energy back at the source or elsewhere with any accuracy whatsoever is nil. A millimeter off on your ‘reflector’ at 1000 yards and you’ll miss. Aiming lasers over long distances is much tougher than it looks in the movies, and tracking a moving target, even a slow one, is impressive.

HopeHeFails on April 9, 2013 at 2:15 PM

The geometry of a corner cube reflector means that light is reflected back to its source regardless of how the reflector is oriented.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corner_reflector

PersonFromPorlock on April 9, 2013 at 6:51 PM

The prototype, which one official said cost between $31 million and $32 million to make, will be installed aboard the
USS PoncePwned!

There, fixed the typo for you.

scotash on April 9, 2013 at 7:12 PM

American exceptionalism. Suck it, Libs.

teacherman on April 9, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Well,
If you kick up the voltage and current on a laser diode, you can pump it to a higher output. It will burn out unless you cool it, similar to the way LED flashlights bump up their brightness.

SO, in theory, you COULD pump up a laser diode to put out a nice high peak. Heck, you can get them at 1.4w right now for less than $300. That handheld laser will blind someone almost instantly at close to 1000 yards.

But, in theory again, you could put several into a focusing lens arrangement and combine them into a pretty darn powerful beam.

Or, create one that is used as a round in a “laser pistol” … overcharged and burned out at a high peak for a brief, but intense beam. And then a new one “in the chamber” for the next firing.

But yeah, I spend too much time thinking about and playing with such things.

NB: Don’t try this at home. I’m a professional and well, been very lucky so far ;)

ProfShadow on April 9, 2013 at 7:53 PM

American exceptionalism. Suck it, Libs.

teacherman on April 9, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Don’t get cocky. It would take direct divine intervention to stop budget cuts from sending this and a lot more to mothballs.

MelonCollie on April 9, 2013 at 8:18 PM

One laser like this doesn’t look very effective against a kamikaze swarm of armed drones.

Tripwhipper on April 9, 2013 at 10:11 PM

One laser like this doesn’t look very effective against a kamikaze swarm of armed drones.

Tripwhipper on April 9, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Depends..

How high is the actual power output, how fast can the radar track and lase targets,.. and how much the ship uses it in combination with 5 inch gunfire, 20mm cannon shells and missile launches.

It’s not a stand alone weapon I’m sure, a Destroyer can put out a lot of conventional counter measures as well. It’s just one more capability to amp up fleet defense.

mark81150 on April 9, 2013 at 11:40 PM

I read everything I could find on WWII, and a lot dealt with the US Navy in the Pacific. Kamikaze attacks were devastating when the Navy was completely unprepared for that tactic, but they learned. We still lost ships, but the numbers of Kamikazes required to score a hit became extreme. It became a matter of killing as many as possible as fast as possible.

The Navy’s current method of a layered defense seems the sound one, this system can only improve that. If the Laser can kill quickly enough, it could be a very valuable asset. A 3d animation doesn’t really give us that much of a feel for the systems real speed.. nor a video made for wide release. The military never gives away it’s real specs. While I was in the Air Force, the speed of the SR-71 I heard was very different from the publicly released speed.

just sayin…

mark81150 on April 9, 2013 at 11:49 PM

One laser like this doesn’t look very effective against a kamikaze swarm of armed drones.

Tripwhipper on April 9, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Swarm of armed drones. It makes more sense to override the signal / control package of the drones using the same or similar laser like device to overwhelm the drones incoming instructions.

Requires much less precision.

danielreyes on April 9, 2013 at 11:57 PM

Huge leap. Low ordnance. Hopefully the next generation will be even more effective. I wonder if they used this technology in Iraq.

lexhamfox on April 10, 2013 at 12:15 AM

While I was in the Air Force, the speed of the SR-71 I heard was very different from the publicly released speed.

just sayin…

mark81150 on April 9, 2013 at 11:49 PM

Tease ;)

Wanderlust on April 10, 2013 at 12:38 AM

Huh? Is the “Alan Parsons Project” obsolete already?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Duj2oZIC8U

moo on April 10, 2013 at 6:53 AM

While I was in the Air Force, the speed of the SR-71 I heard was very different from the publicly released speed.

just sayin…

mark81150 on April 9, 2013 at 11:49 PM

Tease ;)

Wanderlust on April 10, 2013 at 12:38 AM

Truthfully, I don’t think I can say, I’m bound by a security reg, which required a personal brief by the OSI on discharge, that I could not divulge any classified information I may have come into possession of while under a secret clearance. This may be covered by that, so I’ll err on the side of caution here.

Probably shouldn’t have even mentioned it.

I was just using my experience to show the numbers released are not necessarily the high end of a systems capability. Sorry for the tease…

mark81150 on April 10, 2013 at 7:57 AM

meloncollie @ 8:18PM

Whether this is further funded or not doesn’t change the fact that we developed this technology.

teacherman on April 10, 2013 at 8:13 AM

Yeah, but will it pop a humongous container of Jiffy Pop?

iurockhead on April 9, 2013 at 11:40 AM

It takes a real genius to come up with a comment like that.

Odysseus on April 10, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Huh? Is the “Alan Parsons Project” obsolete already?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Duj2oZIC8U

moo on April 10, 2013 at 6:53 AM

OMG!

I just skipped right over your link to listen to Eye in the Sky by Alan Parsons Project.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pb5Lz8v5W9w

*sigh* I’d forgotten that tune. So Great! So Wonderful! So many memories.

avagreen on April 10, 2013 at 8:22 PM

Even better:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cr9vmY6Y5Is

avagreen on April 10, 2013 at 8:29 PM

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