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'Near-Instantaneous Lethality': Navy Laser Weapon Now Fully Armed and Operational

The laser weapon — the first of its kind in any of the U.S. military services — was officially deployed Wednesday for use against an enemy threat.

An experimental laser that was being tested by the U.S. Navy is now battle-ready.

The Navy said Wednesday it has deployed its Laser Weapons System (LaWS), which has the capability of disabling a ship and shooting down aircraft. The weapon — the first of its kind in any of the military branches — was tested in September and is now mounted aboard the U.S.S. Ponce in the Persian Gulf.

A video released by the Navy shows an operator using a game console-like controller, maneuvering the laser weapon, and striking targets aboard a dummy vessel. The laser beam — using 30 kilowatts of power — can't be seen by the naked eye. In the video, the targets, including an unmanned drone, explode into pieces in a show meant to "dazzle and destroy."

"We ran this particular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement.

The prototype technology was developed over seven years at a $40 million price tag. Subsequent versions of LaWS will have 5 times the destructive force at 150 kilowatts, military officials said. Deployment of those weapons would be carried out in two to three years.

The military has been touting the use of lasers for their cost-effectiveness. While shooting a missile can cost millions of dollars, each shot of the laser system allegedly costs about 59 cents, The Washington Post reported.

Lasers capable of blasting drones and other targets are also seen as the future of military hardware. But their competency in warfare remains to be seen. "I would be surprised if it actually becomes a useful weapon in the next 50 years," Rebecca Slayton, a professor at Cornell’s Department of Science & Technology, told NBC News in September.



— Jim Miklaszewski and Erik Ortiz