The Navy plans to install a laser gun on a ship next year to zap dangerous swarming small boats and flying drones in the Persian Gulf.
Pentagon officials say the $32 million high-technology system offers the Navy a weapon at a fraction of the cost of its traditional arsenal, such as cruise missiles and rapid-fire Gatling guns.
“Our conservative data tells us a shot of directed energy costs under $1,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said in a statement. “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.”
The laser’s power also can be scaled down, presenting the Navy a nonlethal alternative to ward off threats such as pirates, terrorists and smugglers.
“Because lasers run on electricity, they can be fired as long as there is power and provide a measure of safety as they don’t require carrying propellants and explosives aboard ships,” the Navy said.
The technology, called the Laser Weapon System, was developed by engineers and scientists from the Navy, defense industry and academia. It involves commercial fiber solid-state lasers and has already shot down a flying target.
It will be deployed onboard the U.S. warship Ponce in 2014.
The announcement to deploy the laser comes as military researchers continue to try to make progress on so-called directed energy weapons.