The U.S. Navy is two years ahead of schedule in rolling out its Laser Weapon System (LaWs). The first ship to be fitted with LaWs is the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105).
Developed by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, LaWs is a directed-energy laser that can target, disable, and destroy missiles, drones, aircraft, and other land and ocean based vehicles and vessels. LaWs, however, is not to be confused with the lasers we’re all used to seeing in movies. The laser does not instantaneously destroy moving objects, rather, it provides “graduated lethality.” For example, when LaWs is deployed against a moving target, the laser heats the surface of the target until it starts a fire, sustained application of the laser’s intensity is what leads to the explosion. Naturally, the smaller the object, the more effective the laser.
Other benefits to LaWs include heating a moving target so that an adjunct weapon (e.g. heat-seeking missile) can more effectively lock on and track its target. LaWs can also disorient pilots, disrupt on-board electronic sensors and components, and shine a beam of light warning the enemy of the use of lethal force.
One major drawback to LaWs is that it needs to be coupled with another weapon. Another issue is that it can only focus on one target at a time, making the system not as effective against a swarm of enemy targets.
Of course, it’s not all too difficult to envision future versions of this technology capable of honing in on multiple targets at a time, with even greater laser intensity.