US Navy tests laser weapon capable of shooting planes mid-air
23 May 2020
The US Navy has successfully tested a weapon that can fire targeted beams of high-energy laser to shoot small planes and drones out of the sky.
The demonstration was conducted against a drone flying over the Pacific ocean and marks a major boost for the country's at-sea arsenal.
Here is all you need to know about it.
Solid State Laser fired from USS Portland
On May 16, a high-energy solid-state laser - dubbed Technology Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) - installed on the deck of US Navy warship USS Portland fired a concentrated beam of laser on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The laser, according to photos and videos shared by the Navy, instantly started a fire on the drone, disabling and destroying it completely mid-air.
No specific details of the weapon were provided
In a statement on Friday, the Navy's Pacific Fleet announced the successful laser test, noting this was the "first system-level implementation" of a high-energy laser of this kind.
It said that the weapon was developed by the US Office of Naval Research and defense contractor Northrup Grumman but did not provide any other details around its capabilities or the exact test location.
A 150-kilowatt laser?
While the exact capabilities of the laser weapon system remain unknown, some reports indicate that this could be a 150-kilowatt system.
If that is the case, this would be a major upgrade over the world's first laser weapon - a 30-kilowatt system deployed on the now-retired USS Ponce amphibious transport ship over three years ago.
"Redefining war at sea"
"The Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator is a unique capability the Portland gets to test and operate for the Navy," Capt. Karrey Sanders, the commanding officer of Portland, stated. "With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy."
Laser weapons can take out UAVs, boats, and more
The US Navy says direct energy weapons (DEWs) like the one tested recently can cause damage strong enough to neutralize an "increasing number of potential threats," including UAVs, armed boats, and adversary intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.
These weapons, it explained, work by converting chemical or electrical energy to radiated energy and then focusing it directly on the aerial/ground-based target.
Attack at the speed of light
Advanced laser systems not just increase the response options of a warship but also offer the advantage of speed.
This is because the laser beams that these weapons fire are nothing but concentrated photons, which travel at the speed of light or, you can say, 50,000 times the speed of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
It cannot be matched by any other weapon.