Office of Naval Research
An optimistic artist's rendering of a fully operational Maritime Laser Demonstrator.
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updated 4/11/2011 4:26:10 PM ET 2011-04-11T20:26:10

With their new high-energy laser weapon, the U.S. Navy has succeeded in combining buccaneers and Buck Rogers. Called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator, the ray gun quickly disabled a small boat in a recent test. Such lasers could one day protect military vessels from the same kind of tiny boat that almost sunk the destroyer U.S.S. Cole by augmenting the small machine guns already aboard American warships.

The test, conducted on April 6th by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), marks the first time that a high energy laser has properly functioned as a weapon on the high seas. Offensive lasers often have problems in dynamic environments like the ocean, and have so far proven mostly useless in battle. Due to that dicey history, the lessons learned while developing the laser may prove more valuable than the laser itself

"We are learning a ton from this program - how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons," said Peter Morrison, program officer for the ONR. "All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome."

As you can see in the below video,  the laser works by slowly burning a hole through the boat's engine. Since it lacks the blast of a "Star Wars"-style laser, or even the force of the machine guns already used for ship defense, ONR designed the laser to complement and diversify, rather than replace, the systems already protecting American warships, Morrison said.

ONR developed the laser in conjunction with the defense company Northrop Grumman. The program had a ceiling value of $98 million, and took about two and a half years to complete.

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