U.S. Navy rolls out laser cannon; rail gun coming soon

The U.S. Navy announced Monday it's ready to launch a warship armed with a laser cannon. We might not have hoverboards, but finally, we can say the future is here.

The solid-state Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, will be deployed on the USS Ponce this spring. The project took six years to complete and cost $40 million. (Via U.S. Navy / John F. Williams)

The Navy tested LaWS last spring, successfully shooting down a drone mid-flight. The system is designed to target "asymmetrical threats" to warships, such as speedboats and drones.

At the time, Wired noted the USS Ponce will be stationed near the Persian Gulf, making LaWS the perfect weapon to bring along. "It just so happens that the LaWS’ ability to track and kill surveillance drones and swarming fast boats matches with Iran’s development of surveillance drones and swarming fast-boat tactics."

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So aside from it just being objectively awesome, what's the point of arming Navy vessels with lasers?

The main advantage of laser technology is cost. LaWS costs about a dollar per round to shoot. One Navy officer told The Maritime Executive, "Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability."

But as RT notes, there are drawbacks. "Lasers typically become much less effective when the weather turns sour, meaning that rain or dust storms could severely shorten their range."

Luckily, the Navy's not short on terrifying future weapons to keep the LaWS company. This supersonic electromagnetic rail gun prototype could be ready for testing aboard a vessel in two years time.

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