19 July, 2017
The United States Navy has demonstrated a new laser weapon operating in the Persian Gulf. The Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, is deployed on the USS Ponce transport ship.
Lieutenant Cale Hughes is a laser weapons expert on the USS Ponce. He told CNN that because the weapon operates at the speed of light, it can immediately hit and destroy a target. This is about 50,000 times faster than an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
"We don't worry about wind, we don't worry about range, we don't worry about anything else," Hughes said. "We're able to engage the targets at the speed of light."
The technology is also called "directed energy." The laser contains large amounts of photons that shoot intense energy. It destroys its targets with fire and heat thousands of degrees in temperature.
The system is powered by electricity. It costs much less to build and operate than other weapons. The Navy said the cost of a single laser shot is about one dollar.
Captain Christopher Wells said the laser weapon is far more exact than most systems.
Inez Kelly is an advisor with the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. She says the laser's exactness results in less damage and could reduce the number of human deaths and injuries during war.
"If you're looking at a boat coming in over the water, you can target exactly the engine and take out exactly the engine, and not necessarily damage anything else," she told CNN.
Military officials have tested the ship-based weapon against boats and small aircraft. The Navy says the system has performed well against drones, which military forces are increasingly using around the world.
The Navy has said it plans to deploy laser weapons to additional ships by the early 2020s. It is also developing laser technology to be used against more powerful weapons, such as missiles.
Military contractor Lockheed Martin is currently developing laser technology to protect against possible attacks by missiles and drones. The company is working on a 60-kilowatt system combining multiple lasers to form a "high power weapon beam."
This system could protect against an attack by many drones – or even missiles - at the same time. Lasers can be an effective defense against such an attack because the system is not easily destroyed as long as it has power, the company says.
"The laser weapon system can fire over and over, essentially creating an unlimited magazine of "bullets," says a description on Lockheed Martin's website.
In January, Britain confirmed its military had signed a $39 million deal with European defense companies to build a prototype laser weapon.
British military officials said the Dragonfire system will not be developed to be used against any single target. Instead, it will be tested to see how well it can identify and follow a mix of targets in many different environments and situations.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on a report from CNN and other sources. Caty Weaver was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Do you think laser weapons should be used for military purposes? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
laser – n. strong, focused line of light or energy
drone – n. small flying machine flown remotely by a pilot
range – n. a specified distance
engage – v. start an action against someone or something
beam – n. line of light or energy
magazine – n. part of a gun that holds bullets
prototype – n. original or first model of something from which others are developed or made