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With photos and video, Navy shows how its new laser gun works at sea

A new laser gun mounted on the USS Ponce has been operational for months in the Persian Gulf, and it has exceeded expectations as far as its range and durability, senior Navy officers said Wednesday.

The Navy calls it the LaWS, short for laser weapon system. It was installed on the Ponce over the summer, and deployed this fall. Video released by the service on Wednesday shows it taking out an incoming speedboat in a test at a long, undisclosed range with directed energy. No laser beam can be seen, but the boat bursts into flames.

“It’s almost like a Hubble telescope at sea,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, the Navy’s chief of naval research. “Literally, we’re able to get that kind of power and magnification.”

The weapon has been in development for years. In a 2011 test, a laser was used to take out multiple small boats from a U.S. destroyer. In 2012, the LaWS downed several downed aircraft, Navy officials said.

The 30-kilowatt gun hadn’t been taken on a full deployment until recently, however. It was installed during the summer and taken into the Persian Gulf this fall. It already has withstood a 35 mph sandstorm, and was still in alignment and working the next day, Klunder said.

The system offers several possible advantages. For one, each shot costs the military about 59 cents — far less than most other forms of ammunition that could be used. Generators are aboard the ship to provide the power and cooling needed by the gun.

Klunder acknowledged it took a while to get the rules of engagement needed to use the gun approved in the Pentagon. At this point, however, the captain of the Ponce could use it against a real threat if required, he said.

The gun is adjustable, with shots of different strengths fired. The service already is planning larger laser guns of between 100 and 150 kilowatts, Klunder said. A lot of the ships in the Navy’s fleet are capable of  having them aboard, he added.