The U. S. Navy will deploy a fiber-optic, solid-state, weaponized laser onboard a ship next year, two years ahead of schedule. The weapon is projected to reduce munition inventories, will be able to fire as long as the ship has electric power, and each “round” costs about $1/shot (compared to hundreds of thousands dollars for a missile). And ships needn’t carry propellants or explosives for it.
At first, the laser will be used against incoming missiles, planes, and boats, working with the Mk 15 Phalanx close-in-weapon system and sharing its targeting radar. But the Navy has other plans for it as well. For example, lasers heat up targets so IR trackers can more easily lock onto them. Another ideas is to have lasers “dazzle” or blind and confuse pilots and the electronics on subs, ships, and aircraft.
The laser, developed at the Naval Sea Systems Command Laboratory in Washington D. C., will be installed on the AFSB[I] Ponce 15, the Navy’s first interim afloat forward staging base. The USS Ponce started out as an LPD (amphibious transport dock) ship and was originally commissioned in 1971. Testing and development will continue, particularly on the laser’s gimbal mount and to ensure the laser and its optics can withstand the ocean environment.