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18 July 2017

The Navy’s silent drone destroyer is this ridiculously powerful laser

It’s no surprise that the U.S. Navy has a massive suite of high-tech weapons. But the looming threat of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, has forced the Navy to put some of its prowess into an unexpected weapon — a laser.

The Navy’s new Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is essentially a silent ray gun that brings a huge wrath onto electronic targets of all kinds, namely drones.

The USS Ponce is the first ship and crew to put LaWS into action, and CNN recently witnessed the weapon firsthand. Essentially, it works like most laser pointers, just on a massive scale. 

Just like any other laser, LaWS hits its target with loads of photons (or particles of light). The difference between lasers and normal light beams is that the photons in lasers have a coherent wavelength. This means that all of the wavelengths are the same, and are able to keep a tight light beam that helps it travel long distances. 

By comparison, the normal light you see all the time is not made of coherent wavelengths, which makes it disperse throughout a room. Lasers, on the other hand, are able to fire as a single beam. 

It also helps that lasers only contain one wavelength of color. This is why your professor could use a beam of all red during class during a Power Point presentation, and your little brother could shine his bright green laser in your eyes growing up. 

Unlike laser pointers, the Navy’s LaWS uses a wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum that is invisible to the human eye, helping it to complete a true sneak attack. And since it’s a laser, it truly moves at the speed of light.

Besides being invisible, the laser is also silent. So enemies really have no chance of noticing the incoming beam or rerouting. Once the laser hits the target, the photons heat it up to over 1,000 degrees. The incoming enemy immediately burns up and falls from the sky.

While the laser is intended to take down drones, it can also disable some small boats. The beauty of the laser is that it’s much more versatile than other weapons because it works efficiently for targets in the sky, on land, and in the water. The Navy is currently working on a new generation of lasers that can take down bigger targets, like missiles. 

LaWS appears to be a bit complicated from the outside perspective, but it’s actually pretty simple. All the laser needs to run is energy, which it gets from its own generator, and there’s a crew of just three people who operate the laser. Since the beam moves at the speed of light, the crew literally just has to point and shoot the laser. No wind, range, or other calculations need to be thought out before firing since it moves so quickly. 

The whole system costs roughly $40 million, but each time the laser fires only sets the Navy back about one dollar. So, it’s pretty economical. 

LaWS has been in testing for over three years, but systems like this could one day be used to fight off intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like the ones China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran are working on. The laser system moves roughly 50,000 times quicker than these ICBMs, giving the U.S a huge edge on the enemy.

The laser doesn’t only mean enemy takedown is quicker and sneakier. It also means there is less unnecessary carnage. Because the laser has such a focused target, it just hits what it needs to take down without destroying large areas around it, too. 

Who knows when we’ll actually see LaWS in action. But when we do, it certainly looks like it could help our troops. Even though the unusual weapon hasn’t gone to battle yet, it proves how crucial improving technology is to every aspect of our lives, including national security.

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