U.S. Navy Deploys Laser Weapon to Arabian Gulf

laser weapon

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy/Department of Defense

U.S. Navy Deploys Laser Weapon to Arabian Gulf
| published November 15, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


Lasers have arrived on the battlefield, and in this case it is the U.S. Navy which has deployed the latest of its cutting-edge weapons.

The USS Ponce, an amphibious transport ship now patrolling in the Persian Gulf as part of the maritime operations supporting airstrikes against ISIS, is now equipped with the first-of-its-kind 30-kilowatt laser weapon device. The prototype laser weapon is designed specifically to damage or destroy high-speed incoming threats to naval assets—threats which could include aerial drones, high speed patrol boats, or low-flying small aircraft.

The Navy describes the use of the prototype as ideal for the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian waters, where each day dozens of warplanes take off from aircraft carriers on their bombing missions in Iraq or Syria. Those same waters, which also include the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, are also strategically important for the oil which flows through its azure seas every day—tens of thousands of barrels per day, or nearly 20% of all the world’s oil.

U.S. Navy security experts prefer that all vessels maintain a constant state of readiness in the sometimes dangerous waters which flow between Kuwait and Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and around Qatar. For American forces—or for the militaries of any country in support of U.S. activities in the Gulf—the threat from water-borne adversaries, or from rogue elements and terrorist groups is a constant. The laser weapon’s supporters hope that this variable-strength device will be the ideal deterrent for such small-scale but potentially lethal attacks.

The laser weapon can be adjusted easily from non-lethal uses to lethal, and though its exact operational processes and engineering specs are secret (including its range), it is believed by most weapons analysts to use some form of particle-beam acceleration. The Navy has already tested its capacity for lethal use on fixed targets on land and at sea, and now hopes to conduct more at-sea testing.

The cost of this first prototype laser weapon was roughly $40 million. But that’s cheap when compared to its real-world combat costs, which exceed $1 million per firing. However, as is typical in the development phase of new weapons systems, the cost of the prototype generally greatly exceeds the cost of units once perfected and manufactured for regular deployment. The extreme cost of firing factors-in a heavy consumption of energy—a mega-consumption necessary for the device to have its lethal effectiveness. Newer power sources designed for ships may soon greatly reduce this cost-per-shot.

The image included in this article (photo taken in San Diego by John F. Williams for the U.S. Navy), depicts a prototype installed aboard the USS Dewey this past summer. Images of the laser device as installed aboard the USS Ponce are, for the moment, classified.

The laser obtains it target after instructions from a radar system (typically MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System) or other precision tracking device.The device now being sea-tested by the Ponce in the Arabian Gulf, if successful, will be followed by a more powerful device under development and expected to be ready within the next 6 years. The larger, more potent laser weapon will have a much longer range while consuming less electrical energy on board ship.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Cost of Going Back Into Iraq; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 8, 2014.

ISIS, the Kurds, & the Fight for Kobani; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 20, 2014.