Laser Beams, Schemes, and Dreams

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John F. Williams / U.S. Navy

The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey in San Diego, Calif., is bound for the Persian Gulf.

The Navy, with a fair amount of salesman-ship (pun intended), unveiled a new sea-based laser weapon Monday that it plans to deploy to the Persian Gulf, for possible use against Iranian speedboats and drones, in 2014.

Lasers have always been five years away – and always will be, Pentagon skeptics say. The promise of the premise has always been there, but turning amplified light into weapons has proven to be a long-standing challenge.

The Navy released a video Monday showing the prototype system destroying a drone in mid-flight, and suggesting it could do the same against Iranian targets when it is dispatched to the Gulf next year aboard the command vessel USS Ponce.

“This capability provides a tremendously affordable answer to the costly problem of defending against asymmetric threats,” Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research, said. “That kind of innovative approach is crucial in a fiscally-constrained environment.”

A pulse of directed energy costs about $1 to generate. “Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile,” Klunder said in a Navy release, “and you can begin to see the merits of this capability.”

Who said sequestration was all bad?