US Navy claims success with laser weapon that can destroy drones mid-flight

Colin Drury
USS Portland fires laser weapon: Screengrab US Navy

A high-energy laser weapon that can destroy an aircraft mid-flight has been successfully tested by the US navy, its Pacific Fleet has said.

Video and images released by military top brass show a beam emanating from the USS Portland, which appears to take out a drone.

The power of the weapon was not disclosed but a 2018 report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies said it was expected to be a 150-kilowatt machine.

That means it could wipe out drones and small boats with a single strike.

“With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea,” said Captain Karrey Sanders, commanding officer of the USS Portland, in a statement.

He added that such lasers – called directed energy weapons or DEWs – could now be developed to be highly effective defences across a range of American navy ships.

The machine tested is called a Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator.

It is also hoped that so-called laser cannons could be developed to destroy long-range missiles in mid flight – essentially neutralising the most advanced means of attack currently available to any potential enemy.

“By conducting advanced at-sea tests against unmanned aerial vehicles [drones] and small crafts, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,” said Capt Sanders.

“The navy’s development of DEWs like the Laser Weapons System Demonstrator provide immediate warfighter benefits and provide the commander increased decision space and response options.”

According to the navy, the weapon system is being developed due to “an increasing number of threats” that include drones, armed small boats, and adversary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. Although China was not mentioned, the fact the testing was carried out in the Pacific would appear to carry its own message.

The US navy has used other laser weapon systems on its ships, including its 30-kilowatt class Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard the USS Ponce – but it is said the new weapon is its most powerful DEW yet.

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