U.S. Navy to roll out laser weapon

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. Navy said it is preparing to roll out a sea-based laser weapon capable of disabling small enemy vessels and shooting down surveillance drones.

The laser system will be deployed in 2014, two years ahead of schedule, aboard the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport ship retrofitted as a waterborne staging base, the navy said Monday.

Chief of Naval Research Adm. Matthew Klunder said the cost of one blast of “directed energy” could be less than $1. “Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability,” he said.

The Office of Naval Research and Naval Sea Systems Command successfully tested high-energy lasers against a moving target ship and a remotely piloted drone. The laser runs on electricity, so the weapon “can be fired as long as there is power,” and is a lot safer than carrying explosives aboard ships.

The New York Times, which said the USS Ponce would deploy to the gulf, noted the Pentagon had a “long history of grossly inflating” claims for experimental weapons.

Navy officials had acknowledged that the prototype laser was not yet strong enough to bring down a fighter jet or a missile, although those remained the long-term targets, The Times reported.