US Navy engineers are performing final adjustments to a new laser-weapon prototype that will be installed onboard an operational US Navy vessel for the first time later this summer.
The prototype, an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), will be deployed on the US Navy's Austin-class amphibious transport dock, USS Ponce, for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf.
During tests aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Dewe, the LaWS system was successfully used against a surveillance drone and fast boats.
Naval research chief Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder said that the LaWS is a revolutionary capability.
"Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats," Klunder said.
The US Office of Naval Research, the Naval Sea Systems Command and the Naval Research Laboratory have worked together to make ship-borne laser weapons a reality.
A team of navy engineers and scientists, working under the ONR Quick Reaction Capability programme, have upgraded LaWS for its deployment on USS Ponce. They have also demonstrated that targets tracked with the existing Phalanx Close-In weapon can be handed over to the laser's systems easily.
During the USS Ponce deployment, data will be gathered on accuracy, lethality and other factors, which will guide the development of further laser weapons for the US Navy under ONR's Solid-State Laser - Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) programme.
ONR SSL-TM programme manager Peter Morrison said: "We are in the midst of a pivotal transition with a technology that will keep our sailors and marines safe and well-defended for years to come.
"We believe the deployment on Ponce and SSL-TM will pave the way for a future acquisition programme of record so we can provide this capability across the fleet."
Image: The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) installed aboard USS Dewey. Photo: U.S. Navy, courtesy of John F. Williams/Released.