An optimistic artist's rendering of a fully operational Maritime Laser Demonstrator.
Credit: Office of Naval Research
Laser weapons capable of burning small boats or sending drones plunging from the sky as flaming wrecks could find a home aboard U.S. Navy ships in the next two years, an admiral says.
That prediction came from Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, the chief of the Office of Naval Research, during an interview with Wired's Danger Room. The Navy has already worked with defense companies to test lasers for destroying both boats and aircraft, and has even looked at pairing lasers up with more traditional machine guns for ship defense.
The Navy used a laser-machine gun combination to shoot down shoot down robotic aircraft during Pacific Ocean tests in 2010. To the disappointment of "Star Wars" fans, the lasers did their destruction as invisible beams rather than as green or red laser pulses.
Another project with backing from the Office of Naval Research, the Maritime Laser Demonstrator, showed how a laser could disable a small boat during a 2011 test. Small boats may not sound like a threat to a U.S. Navy warship, but they can carry weapons such as torpedoes or even act as floating suicide bombs (one of the latter heavily damaged the destroyer USS Cole in 2000).
Whenever lasers do deploy aboard ships, they'll need enough energy from shipboard power sources to do their work. The same power requirement goes for the Navy's experimental railgun — a fast-firing superweapon that could someday hurl guided shells at targets 100 miles away.
Source: Wired's Danger Room