Three months ago we introduced China's "silent hunter" experimental laser gun, and now, as CNN reports, in the waters of the Persian Gulf looms the US Navy's first - in fact, the world's first - active laser weapon.
The LaWS, an acronym for Laser Weapons System, is not science fiction. It is not experimental. It is deployed on board the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Capt. Christopher Wells and his crew.
CNN was granted exclusive access to a live-fire test of the laser.
For the test, the USS Ponce crew launched the target -- a drone aircraft. Immediately, the weapons team zeroed in.
"We don't have to lead a target," Hughes explained. "We're doing that engagement at the speed of light so it really is a point and shoot -- we see it, we focus on it, and we can negate that target."
In an instant, the drone's wing lit up, heated to a temperature of thousands of degrees, lethally damaging the aircraft and sending it hurtling down to the sea. The strike comes silently and invisibly.
"It is more precise than a bullet," Wells told CNN.
"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."
LaWS begins with an advantage no other weapon ever invented comes even close to matching. It moves, by definition, at the speed of light. For comparison, that is 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM.
"It is throwing massive amounts of photons at an incoming object," said Lt. Cale Hughes, laser weapons system officer.
"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."
All the $40 million system needs to operate is a supply of electricity, which is derived from its own small generator, and has a crew of three. No multi-million-dollar missile, no ammunition at all.
The cost per use? "It's about a dollar a shot," said Hughes.
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