Last July, off the coast of San Diego, California, a laser weapon installed on the USS Dewey was about to bring an unmanned aerial vehicle right down from the sky, no ammunition necessary. The U.S. Navy now has a video of that exercise, eye-popping for the speed and seeming ease with which that drone is destroyed.
Officials also announced that the system would soon be deployed to the Persian Gulf, The New York Times reported. Iran's government is reportedly in the process of developing a drone fleet. Per the Times' report:
The Pentagon has a long history of grossly inflating claims for its experimental weapons, but a nonpartisan study for Congress said the weapon offered historic opportunities for the Navy.
"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," said the assessment, by the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress.
Laser weapons systems are appealing to military planners because of the low cost of an attack. A sustained pulse of energy can cost around just $1; short-range defense missiles, by contrast, cost in the neighborhood of $1.4 million each. However, according to Navy officials, the current laser systems are not powerful enough to bring down jet fighters or approaching missiles, though, as The Times puts it, "That capability is a goal of researchers."
Though the video demonstrates the laser system's capability to bring down a drone, the weapon can also be set to "dazzle" other warcraft, a less detrimental attack that blinds the targets' sensors but does not fully destroy them.