A laser that may fundamentally change the way the U.S. Navy fights is nearly ready for zapping aerial drones, speed boats, and other threats.
The highly anticipated futuristic weapon, which shoots a beam of energy that, like in the movies, can burn through a target or fry sensitive electronics, is known as the solid-state Laser Weapon System and is designed to target what the Navy describes as "asymmetrical threats," the Associated Press reported
The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship later this year to counter "asymmetrical threats," which include aerial drones, speed boats and swarm boats. Unlike conventional weapons, the intended targets of the laser gun will likely not even know what hit them, considering the laser beam is said to be invisible to the human eye.
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"It fundamentally changes the way we fight," Captain Mike Ziv, program manager for directed energy and electric weapon systems for the Naval Sea Systems Command, told the AP.
As futuristic and impressive as the laser gun sounds, it does however have its faults.
Traditionally, lasers lose much of their potency when it rains or if there's a substantial amount of dust or turbulence in the atmosphere?
According to Ziv, however, the Navy has "found ways to deal with use of lasers in bad weather, but there's little doubt that the range of the weapon would be reduced by clouds, dust or precipitation."
In addition to the laser, the Navy is also developing an electromagnetic rail gun prototype, which it plans to implement aboard a vessel within two years.
With the ability to fire a lethal projectile from long distances at six or seven times the speed of sound, rail guns have already been tested on land in Virginia however have yet to make the leap to sea travel due largely to the fact that they require a great deal of energy to operate.
Presently, the only ship in the U.S. Navy that is said to have the capabilities of providing the energy necessary to operate a rail gun is its latest destroyer, the Zumwalt, which is under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, the AP reported.
The ship can reportedly produce up to 78 megawatts of power, which could be used to power a small city.
Aside from the rail guns speed and laser gun's capabilities, both weapon systems will never run out of ammunition so long as energy is available and are said to be inexpensive to operate compared with other weapons employed by the military.
In other words, whereas smart missiles can cost upwards of $1 million apiece, each laser fired will likely cost just a few dollars, requiring approximately 30 kilowatts of electricity to operate.
The United States of course isn't the only nation to be developing laser systems for military use.
"It's fair to say that there are other countries working on this technology. That's safe to say," Ziv said. "But I would also say that a lot of what makes this successful came from the way in which we consolidated all of the complexity into something that can be operated by [a single sailor]."
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