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15 Dec, 2021 17:41

US Navy tests laser weapon in Middle East

US Navy tests laser weapon in Middle East

The US Navy has used a high-energy laser weapon to destroy a floating target in the Gulf of Aden. The test took place in a war-ravaged waterway known for its strategic importance.

On Tuesday, the US Navy used a prototype laser weapons system demonstrator (LWSD) to successfully destroy a floating training target, the navy’s Fifth Fleet announced on Wednesday. The weapon, considered a next-generation follow-on to its existing laser weapon system (LaWS), was mounted aboard the USS Portland, an amphibious transport dock ship.

False-color photos shared by the navy show a laser beam emanating from the ship’s bow and focusing on the static target. 

Running at 150 kilowatts, the LWSD is the navy’s strongest laser, some five times more powerful than the 30-kilowatt LaWS, which is capable of downing small aircraft. Tuesday’s test-firing was not its first trial run, the weapon having been used last year to bring down a drone over the Pacific Ocean.

The latest test, however, was conducted in a politically fraught part of the world. The Gulf of Aden separates East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula, and its waters wash up on the southern shores of Yemen, where a Saudi-led and US-sponsored military coalition has been waging war on Iranian-supported Houthi rebels since 2015. The Houthis have taken to using explosives-laden drone boats to menace Saudi shipping in the gulf, which links the Red Sea to the outside world and is a vital shipping corridor.

Shipping in the Gulf of Aden is also at constant risk of pirate raids originating from Somalia. The US, China, Russia, and Japan have all embarked on anti-piracy missions in the gulf over the past decade.

The Fifth Fleet only briefly mentioned the significance of testing the LWSD in the Gulf of Aden, stating on Wednesday that “the region’s geography, climate, and strategic importance offer a unique environment for technology innovation.”

The US is not the only world power betting on laser weapons. After taking an early lead in the development of hypersonic missiles, Russia will soon add high-powered lasers to its arsenal, President Vladimir Putin said in April. In an interview last month, Putin said the Russian Navy would soon be outfitted with “new hypersonic weapons systems, high-powered lasers, and robotic systems that will be able to effectively counter potential military threats.”