The amphibious warship USS Portland is set to get a radical new version of the Navy’s laser weapon fitted for a historic test.
The laser weapon will be fitted to the ship later this year as a ‘technology demonstrator’ officials said.
It paves the way for laser weapons to be integrated across the Navy fleet.
The weapon is a next-generation upgrade from the U.S. military’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which has been tested in the Middle East aboard the U.S.S. Ponce, programme manager Captain Brian Metcalfe said.
The existing laser weapon is a $40 million system that moves faster than an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and has demonstrated the ability to take down an incoming drone, undeterred by wind and without making any noise.
As soon as the laser makes contact with a drone, the vehicle heats to a temperature of more than 1,000°F (537°C) and explodes.
The weapon is also extremely precise, which could minimise deaths in wartime, according to the Navy.
Asked how long the tech demonstration might last, Metcalf said, ‘if you had asked this question five or six years ago, how long is that laser going to be on Ponce, no one would have guessed that the ship would stay over there (in U.S. 5th Fleet) as long as it did, the laser would stay on as long as it did.
‘My guess is if this works and we like it, it’s going to be there for a while.
‘The ship’s going to go use the thing, and then we’ll start talking about how do you make this part of the ship’s total ship systems.
‘Right now, I am not making a plan to take it off.’
The USS Portland was selected to host a laser weapon technology demonstration by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and to serve as the flagship of this year’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in Hawaii.
‘Just like Ponce, it’s kind of a bolt-on – it’s not going to be integrated into the warfare system, it won’t be providing tracking data or classification data. It’s a technology demonstrator, is what it is.