This week, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced the successful deployment of its laser weapon system (LaWS) aboard USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15). In a series of operational demonstrations conducted from September to November, ONR reports that LaWS not only exceeded all firing expectations, but also proved capable of working in conjunction with the vessel’s other ship defense systems.
Developed in partnership with ONR, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, LaWS endured a variety of adverse weather conditions during which the laser mounted system accurately hit several moving targets. Although LaWS is capable of destroying smaller targets, it’s mostly a countermeasure designed to blur the vision of incoming missiles and to throw pursuing ships and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) off track. Currently, LaWS is most effective within a 1-mile radius.
LaWS is a high-energy laser weapon and is operated remotely by a video-game like controller. So far, LaWS is best at disabling moving targets by alighting the airframe of flying craft or igniting their exterior fuel reserves. Other defensive measures include blinding and disrupting onboard communications.
Although LaWS is currently being tested onboard navy vessels only, long term plans include mounting LaWS on airborne craft and ground-based vehicles.
Military analysts are hoping to fit most US Navy vessels with LaWS sometime in the early 2020s.