The U.S. Defense Department has developed a laser cannon capable of downing a drone aircraft from the deck of a Navy warship.
"The future is here," said Peter Morrison at the Office of Naval Research's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Programme.
The weapon is known as the Laser Weapon System or LaWS. So far it has been used only to shoot down drones in testing trials, but it is being called a step toward new warfare. The laser may not work well in rain or fog, however. Since it runs on electricity it can fire as long as there is power, for less than $1 per shot, the Navy says.
"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," said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research.
-- Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
The prototype, which one official said cost $31m-$32m to make, will be installed aboard the USS Ponce, which is being used as a floating base in the Middle East, sometime after October 2013.
Klunder said the navy expected that someday incoming missiles would not be able to "simply outmanoeuvre" a highly accurate laser beam fired at the speed of light.
A report from the Congressional Research Service praised the laser technology but noted drawbacks, including the potential it could accidentally hit satellites or aircraft. Weather also affects lasers.