The U.S. military is now deploying a weaponized laser. It isn’t a Buck Rogers-style light pistol or a Star Trek phaser that looks like a cell phone. It looks like a telescope. But it can zap enemies with perfect accuracy. Its biggest potential, though, is as a defensive weapon. Not only can it shoot down attacking aircraft and missiles. Because it goes at the speed of light–since it is light–it can even destroy a mortar round.
Also, whereas conventional artillery pieces can run out of expensive ammunition, the laser weapon can keep firing as long as it has electricity, and each zap costs only 59 cents.
From Christian Davenport, The Pentagon’s newest weapons look like something out of ‘Star Wars’ – The Washington Post:
One of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s vast arsenal is a concentrated beam of light, a laser that zaps and burns, delivering destruction by the kilowatt, as if in “Star Wars.”
Under development for years by the military and the defense industry, lasers have moved from science-fiction fantasy, to the laboratory and, just recently, to the Persian Gulf. They sizzle rather than go boom, providing pin-point accuracy that proponents say can prevent the kind of collateral damage that’s unavoidable with missiles or bombs. . . .
For months, sailors tested a $40 million, 30-kilowatt laser mounted on the deck of the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf. Using a video-game like controller, service members practiced taking out drones and small boats. And now the weapon, which looks like a giant telescope, is ready to take out real threats if necessary, officials said, meaning the Pentagon could soon record its first kill with a laser.“The captain of that ship has all of the authorities necessary if there was a threat inbound to that ship,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research. “To protect our sailors and Marines, we would defend that ship with this laser system.”
Unlike missiles, lasers travel at the speed of light, so they hit their target almost instantaneously. Once built, their expense is essentially limited to the cost it takes to fuel it. Navy officials said the USS Ponce’s laser, for example, costs 59 cents a shot, while the cost of some missiles that would perform the same attack can cost in the millions of dollars.
As long as there is power, lasers can also keep firing with an “unlimited magazine” that never needs to be reloaded, which is especially helpful for a ship at sea. The power of lasers can also be changed. A low-energy pulse may disable a drone’s sensors, a maneuver known as “dazzling.” Crank it up, though, and drone soon becomes fireball.