The Question

The World's First Laser Weapon Is Fully Operational

Excited for the August 21 eclipse? Visit our Eclipse 2017 page to explore the science, history, and myths of the event. The Curiosity team will be viewing the eclipse alongside NASA in Carbondale, Illinois. Follow us on Facebook for live videos, trivia, and interviews on the big day.

You'll usually find the USS Ponce on the Mediterranean, though she also patrols the Atlantic and the East Coast of the United States as well. She was meant to be decommissioned in 2012, but instead, she was converted into a floating laboratory where the US Navy tests out the technology that will dominate tomorrow's battlefields. Since 2014, she's been equipped with the most futuristic future weapon imaginable: an honest-to-goodness laser gun. Meet the LaWS.

Laser Weapon System (LaWS) demonstration aboard USS Ponce.

Blasting Bots At The Speed Of Light

The Ponce might be where the Navy tries out its new toys, but don't take that to mean that LaWS (Laser Weapon System) is still in its experimental stages. It is currently operational, meaning the commander of the Ponce is authorized to fire it on enemies — as long as they aren't humans. The Geneva Convention forbids using these kinds of weapons on people, but it's very effective at destroying drones and unmanned watercraft. In fact, because it's so precise, it's easy to use LaWS to disable a boat by destroying its engine without hurting anybody onboard.

As you can probably imagine, there are a lot of benefits to having a death-ray. For one thing, you don't have to worry about ballistic trajectories or wind resistance. Whatever you point this thing at, that's what's getting a couple thousand degrees of pain. It can't be seen because the light it uses is outside of the visible spectrum, and it makes about as much noise as light usually does. Other than that, it works almost exactly like a laser pointer (but not the kind you'd want to wave at your cat).

The LaWS control station aboard USS Ponce.

Lasers And Phasers And Plasma Beams, Oh My!

LaWS may be the first laser deployed for military use, but it's not the only sci-fi-style energy beam in the world today. An LRAD is a sonic weapon, sending powerful, painful sound waves across great distances. And extensive experiments have been carried out with microwave-based weapons, though their legality is somewhat cloudy.

But the Holy Grail of directed energy weapons has to be the particle beam — in science fiction, these are the weird energy beams that do whatever the writers need them to do. While we haven't been able to concentrate and aim other subatomic particles like we have light yet, it's probably just a matter of time before phasers and other high-energy beams are just a part of our arsenal.

The Laser Weapon You'll Never See

If you liked this you'll love our podcast! Check it out on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, search 'curiosity' on your favorite podcast app or add the RSS Feed URL.

Advertisement