The U.S. Navy has just announced that their Laser Weapon System (LaWS) will be ready for deployment well ahead of schedule. The LaWS system will be equipped aboard the USS Ponce and put into action in the Persian Gulf.
The current version of the LaWS system is designed to shoot down airborne drones and other small aircraft. It can also "dazzle" targets with a non-lethal blast designed to blind and confuse a target's sensors, making the Persian Gulf a perfect staging ground for a field test.
The USS Ponce currently serves as a mobile base of operations in the waters off of Iran. The area is riddled with small Iranian ships which have been harassing U.S. Navy vessels for a good long while now. Iran is also constructing remote-operated aircraft, the prey-of-choice for the LaWS system.
In every one of the laser system's 12 test firings, LaWS has successfully destroyed its drone targets; something that seems to have fueled the accelerated deployment timeline. A nonpartisan study conducted by the Congressional Research Service has stated that "Equipping Navy surface ships with lasers could lead to changes in naval tactics, ship design and procurement plans for ship-based weapons, bringing about a technological shift for the Navy — a ‘game changer’ — comparable to the advent of shipboard missiles in the 1950s."
That's some strong rhetoric. And if next year's field deployment goes as well as is hoped, LaWS systems could become standard shipboard kit in the near future. To see the LaWS system take down a drone during one of its successful test-firings, check out the video below.