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. And it just so happens that the Ponce will spend most of 2014 deployed in Iran’s backyard. Neither Klunder nor Eccles will come out and say it exactly, but the maiden deployment of the LaWS has immediate implications for the U.S.’ ongoing sub rosa conflict with the Iranians — and provides a new weapon for the Navy at a time when it’s had to scale back its aircraft carrier presence off of Iran’s shores.It does look pretty cool as the drone bursts into flames, though.
“Any country that operates the kinds of threats this system is designed to deal with should pause and say, ‘If the United States Navy can take a challenge like that and muster the scientific expertise from industry, academia and inside the government and pull together a solution that can be fielded as rapidly as this one’s been fielded, and go from a test environment directly to a forward-deployed unit for demonstration in the field and in the Fifth Fleet,’” Eccles said, “they should recognize that when we say ‘quick-reaction capability’ we truly deliver on a quick reaction capability.”
Within initial limits. The Navy won’t say just how many kilowatts of energy the LaWS’ beam is, but it’s probably under the 100 kilowatts generally considered militarily mature. The fact that LaWS can kill a surveillance drone and a fast-attack boat has more to do with the vulnerabilities of those systems than it its own prowess. It cannot stop an anti-ship missile, and its beam, about the circumference of a dime, will do little more than singe a fighter jet. And there remain significant challenges with cooling a shipboard high-energy laser, a necessary safety feature.
But Greenert, Eccles, and Klunder are confident that the next wave of Navy lasers will be more powerful. The laser programs, long in development, lacked focus for years: should the Navy do the harder work of developing a vastly more powerful Free Electron Laser; or get the less impressive but more practical solid-state lasers into the fleet first?