US Navy officers are currently testing the world’s first drone-killing laser capable of blasting targets with 30kW of power.
The $40 million (£30 million) super laser moves at the speed of light and is ‘more precise than a bullet’, according to naval officers.
Live-tests of the new super laser have now begun in the Persian Gulf, and officials have predicted that it will be used in combat by 2020.
The LaWS, which stands for Laser Weapons System, is currently being tested on board the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship.
‘It is more precise than a bullet,’ Chris Wells, captain of the USS Ponce, told CNN.
‘It’s not a niche weapon system like some other weapons that we have throughout the military where it’s only good against air contacts, or it’s only good against surface targets, or it’s only good against, you know, ground-based targets – in this case this is a very versatile weapon, it can be used against a variety of targets.’
LaWS can move at the speed of light, which is 50,000 times the speed of an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile.
‘It is throwing massive amounts of photons at an incoming object,’ said Lieutenant Cale Hughes, laser weapons system officer.
Officers on board the USS Ponce are currently live-testing the weapon, using an aerial drone as a target.
These kinds of weaponized UAVs are increasingly being used by Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, the officers said.
During a test, a weapon can automatically zero in on a target.
‘We don’t have to lead a target,’ Lt. Hughes said.
‘We’re doing that engagement at the speed of light so it really is a point and shoot – we see it, we focus on it, and we can negate that target.’
As soon as the laser makes contact with a drone, the vehicle heats to a temperature of more than 1,000°F (537°C) and explodes.
‘It operates in an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum so you don’t see the beam, it doesn’t make any sound, it’s completely silent and it’s incredibly effective at what it does,’ said Lt. Hughes.
The weapon is also extremely precise, which could minimise deaths in wartime, according to the Navy.
Captain Wells said: ‘It reduces collateral damage. I no longer have to worry about rounds that may go beyond the target and potentially hurt or damage things that I don’t want to hurt or damage.’
The $40 million weapon uses its own small generator to blast targets with 30kW of power and costs ‘about a dollar a shot’, according to the officers.
They added that the laser will be used to destroy aircraft and small boats, and could be deployed as soon as 2020.
‘It’s designed with the intent of being able to counter airborne and surface-based threats,’ said Hughes.
‘And it’s been able to prove itself over the last three years as being incredibly effective at that.’