The US Navy will begin in-the-wild trials of a laser weapon that can bring down aircraft or small vessels this summer, controlled just like a video game and costing about $1 a shot. The technology will be deployed initially on the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock in the Persian Gulf, rather than mounted to a shark's head, the Navy confirmed, and is part of R&D weaponry trials that also include railguns.
"This very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives," Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, of US Navy Research, said of the laser system, classifying it as "revolutionary."
Rather than firing shells or other munitions, of which there is a limited supply onboard, the laser can be operated by a single member of the crew in a process described as straightforward as playing a first-person shooter. Tests of the technology have already proved its effectiveness, the Navy says.
"Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats" Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, US Navy Research
As for the railgun, that will be tested on the USS Millinocket, notably not a combat ship but instead a "joint high-speed vessel", from 2016 onwards. It uses electromagnets to propel a non-explosive projectile up to 125 miles.
Rather than relying on active explosives, the railgun instead counts on the force of a heavy object moving at around 7.5x the speed of sound to do damage. For the Navy, it means cheaper missiles and less risk of accidental explosions onboard.
Exactly when either technology could see combat deployment is unclear at this stage.