A powerful laser weapon system on board the US Navy ship USS Portland “successfully disabled an unmanned aerial vehicle” during a test on May 16 in the Pacific ocean, according to a government statement.
A video of the test shows the weapon blast an intense ray at a drone — which appears to catch fire almost immediately.
The Technology Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0, developed by Northrup Grumman, allows ships to defend themselves against drones and even smaller enemy boats, the Navy claims.
According to a recent report, the market for similar energy weapon systems are on the rise across the globe, with a new arms race as nations look for novel ways to enhance border security and counter threats including drones and missiles.
“With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy,” Karrey Sanders, commanding officer of the USS Portland, said in the statement.
The UK is also working on its own 50-kilowatt laser weapon system, called “Dragonfire,” to protect maritime and land forces from missiles or enemy mortars. Russia and China are both working on energy weapons, as well as India, Iran and Turkey.
The US may have been working on laser weaponry since at least the 1960s, but this latest test was different. According to the Navy, the test was its first with a high-energy class solid-state laser — a new class of energy armament that could be “paving the way for future weapon systems,” according to Sanders.
This new laser weapon system is suspected to feature a much more powerful 150-kilowatt laser, according to CNN, which would be a major step up in destructive power.
Previous laser weapon systems tested by the US Navy featured 15 and 30 kilowatt lasers, as The Drive reports, and those systems were already powerful. For instance, the Navy’s Laser Weapons System (LaWS), a 30-kilowatt system, was able to down an aircraft during a 2017 test.
The US Air Force is also working to develop new energy weapons. Last year, US-based military contractor Raytheon delivered its first counter-UAS system to the Air Force.
“Five years ago, few people worried about the drone threat,” Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, said in a statement at the time. “Now, we hear about attacks or incursions all the time.”
There have already been reports of international skirmishes using energy weapons. Back in February, the US Navy claimed that a Chinese warship fired a laser weapon at one of its surveillance aircraft.
“Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems,” read a Navy statement at the time.
More on laser weapon systems: US CLAIMS CHINA FIRED LASER WEAPON AT NAVY SPY PLANE