After more than 30 years of experimenting, the US navy has fired a laser gun from a ship.
In a test off the coast of California, the ray gun successfully ignited the engines of an inflatable boat. It’s the first time a High Energy laser has been used on a Naval ship and fired at a water-borne target. (Previous tests were carried out from land.)
In this experiment, carried out from the retired USS Paul Foster, the beam was only 15 kilowatts, which doesn’t qualify as a “genuine combat weapon”, and more to the point doesn’t make for a massive explosion and awesome looking balls of fire.
The idea now is that multiple lasers can be hooked up to produce much more powerful beams. In full-scale military use they wouldn’t just be used to attack other craft, but also as a way to intercept missiles at a much early stage than with current technology. The lasers would prove a cheaper alternative (albeit in a complementary rather than total replacement role) to existing kinetic energy weapons.
The water-borne demonstration capped off six months of testing that included the first time a laser system had been integrated with the radar and automatic navigation of a Navy craft. Arguably the most impressive element of the tests was that the control system allowed the laser to fire accurately even when the ship was subject to waves of up to seven and a half feet.
The BBC notes that commercial shipping may one day have access to a non-lethal form of the technology. BAE Systems is working on a beam that would temporarily blind pirates. (Presumably a Lasarrrr.)