Technology 4 min read

Engage Targets at the Speed of Light with the U.S. Navy LaWS

U.S. Navy LaWS | US Navy

U.S. Navy LaWS | US Navy

It is not science fiction. It is not an experiment. The world’s first laser weapon system, the U.S. Navy XN-1 LaWS, is real and it is ready to fire on targets–anytime, anywhere!

It seems like something taken out of a science fiction film. It is sleek. It is massive. And, in the words of Capt. Christopher Wells of the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship:

“It is more precise than a bullet.”

Unlike other weapons that are specifically built to be used on land or in the air, LaWS uses directed-energy that can fire on any target from anywhere. In an interview with CNN, Capt. Wells said:

“It’s not a niche weapon system like some other weapons that we have throughout the military where it’s only good against air contacts, or it’s only good against surface targets, or it’s only good against, you know, ground-based targets–in this case this is a very versatile weapon, it can be used against a variety of targets.”

Unlike any other weapons system today, LaWS energy moves at the speed of light, as the weapon itself is photons. That is over 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM.

#USNavy now has a #laser weapon that can take down targets quietly in a snap!Click To Tweet

U.S. Navy LaWS: From Planning to Deployment

In 2010, the U.S. government awarded Kratos Defense & Security Solutions an 11 million-dollar contract to support the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) with the development of LaWS for the  U.S. Navy’s Directed Energy and Electric Weapon Systems (DE&EWS) program.

Phalanx CIWS
Phalanx CIWS | Trial Partner for the U.S. Navy LaWS

According to reports, the U.S. Navy has spent over $40 million USD for the said directed-energy weapon’s research and development.

In August 2014, LaWS was installed in USS Ponce–the U.S. 5th Fleet deployed to the Persian Gulf–for a 12-month trial deployment, controlled by a close-in weapon system, the Phalanx CIWS.

The deployment of LaWS then was for the feasibility study of using a laser weapon in a maritime environment against the changing weather, salt water, and dust, plus to know how much power must be utilized. It was estimated that the laser weapon’s level of power was between 15-50 kW for engaging small aircraft and high-speed boats.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division
Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division | Naval Sea Systems Command

In September 2014, LaWS was declared an operational asset and can be used by the ship commander for defensive purposes. Its targets include helicopters, UAVs, and past patrol ships. Under stipulations of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, LaWS should not be used in targeting humans.

It was said that the U.S. Navy has already developed the Rules of Engagement for the LaWS. However, the details were not released.

U.S. Navy LaWS: How it Works

With LaWS, wind and range are irrelevant. All its system officer has to do is point and shoot. According to Lt. Hughes, laser weapons system officer:

“It is throwing massive amounts of photons at an incoming object. We don’t worry about wind, we don’t worry about range, we don’t worry about anything else. We’re able to engage the targets at the speed of light.”

When LaWS strikes, it is silent and invisible.

“It operates in an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum so you don’t see the beam, it doesn’t make any sound, it’s completely silent and it’s incredibly effective at what it does,”  Hughes added.

LaWS’ precision will enable it to limit any collateral damage during wartime. US Navy can aim at a particular spot on a target, then shoot and disable it.

“It reduces collateral damage–I no longer have to worry about rounds that may go beyond the target and potentially hurt or damage things that I don’t want to hurt or damage,” Wells said.

Right now, the U.S. Navy is reported to be developing a more powerful, second-generation systems which can take down more important, faster moving targets like missiles. However, details of its development remain classified.

The U.S. Navy opening the doors to a new era of defense weaponry. Will the U.S. Navy LaWS help secure the United States? How long before another country develops a successful directed energy weapon?

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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