The Navy has developed a revolutionary prototype
for a shipboard laser attack weapon that will be able to burn through enemy boats and dismantle adversary sensors, rendering them useless, according to an announcement Monday.
The prototype will be stationed on a docking ship in the Persian Gulf, where Iranian forces have been harassing American warships and Tehran is working to build surveillance pods and rockets. Though the laser won't be operational until next year, the announcement is seemingly to warn Iran against escalating tensions in the Gulf area.
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The laser, which cost just under $32 million to make, could possibly provide the Navy with a more cost-effective means of countering surface, air, and ballistic missile attacks, a Congress assessment of the prototype found.
"Equipping Navy surface ships with lasers could lead to changes in naval tactics, ship design and procurement plans for ship-based weapons, bringing about a technological shift for the Navy — a 'game changer' — comparable to the advent of shipboard missiles in the 1950s," said the assessment, by the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress.
The downside to the laser is that it might not be fully operational in bad weather, as water vapor, smoke, sand, and dust could scatter the beam. It also would only work against visible targets, so it couldn't combat enemy fire from over the horizon.
The upside is its speed; the laser would travel at the speed of light and be able to keep up with fast-moving targets. It also would have a limitless supply of ammunition.
"The future is here," Peter A. Morrision, program officer for the Office of Naval Research's Sold-State Laser Technology
Maturation Program, said in a statement. "The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."
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