U.S. Navy's laser-equipped battleship floats out this summer

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Jun 30, 2014, 5:27 PM EDT

Almost a year ago, the U.S. Navy announced it would have laser cannons on its ships in 2014. Well, it’s nice to see something happening on schedule. Testing proved successful, and the Navy will send the USS Ponce into the ocean this summer. It’ll be equipped with the Navy’s Laser Weapon System, which we know around here as LaWS.

A little recap: this laser system is awesome, mostly because it’s a freaking laser system. But these aren’t the type that the X-wing was equipped with. They’re made for fighting off drones, small boats and missiles that are within a mile of the ship. It might not be destroying entire battleships, but that’s still a pretty amazing step. Because it has such a small range and isn’t quite as strong as the missiles and guns the Navy’s used to, the USS Ponce will be equipped with traditional weaponry as well.

Last year, a nonpartisan study conducted by the Congressional Research Service stated that "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.”

As our writer Colin Druce-McFadden pointed out, “That’s some strong rhetoric.” He’s right, of course. It is. It also might be completely true, but not for the reasons most of us would think. One of the biggest advantages found in laser-based weapon systems versus traditional ones is that some lasers are actually based on commercial technology. That might sound crazy, until you think about the laser pointer you annoyed your teachers with in fifth grade.

“One of the advantages of the laser system we’re using is that it’s based on commercial technologies. It’s fairly efficient compared to other lasers, and because of that, it can be powered on a lot of different platforms, using existing power sources,” said Navy Captain Mike Ziv, the Naval Sea Systems Command’s program manager for directed energy and electric weapons.

It rolls (or floats) out this summer, at which point naval militarism could change forever. Will it? We’ll see. It’ll certainly make drones a bit less of a nuisance for the USS Ponce, which has destroyed drones in testing.

Via Ars Technica