(CNN) — In the sometimes hostile waters of the Persian Gulf looms the US Navy’s first — in fact, the world’s first — active laser weapon.
The LaWS, an acronym for Laser Weapons System, is not science fiction. It is not experimental. It is deployed on board the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Captain Christopher Wells and his crew.
CNN was granted exclusive access to a live-fire test of the laser.
“It is more precise than a bullet,” Captain Wells told CNN. “It’s not a niche weapon system like some other weapons that we have throughout the military where it’s only good against air contacts, or it’s only good against surface targets, or it’s only good against, you know, ground-based targets — in this case this is a very versatile weapon, it can be used against a variety of targets.”
LaWS begins with an advantage no other weapon ever invented comes even close to matching. It moves, by definition, at the speed of light. For comparison, that is 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM.
“It is throwing massive amounts of photons at an incoming object,” said Lieutenant Cale Hughes, Laser Weapons System Officer. “We don’t worry about wind, we don’t worry about range, we don’t worry about anything else. We’re able to engage the targets at the speed of light.”
CNN witnessed that speed and power firsthand.
For the test, the USS Ponce crew launched the target — a drone aircraft, a weapon in increasing use by Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and other adversaries.
Immediately, the weapons team zeroed in. “We don’t have to lead a target,” Hughes explained. “We’re doing that engagement at the speed of light so it really is a point and shoot — we see it, we focus on it, and we can negate that target.”
In an instant, the drone’s wing lit up, heated to a temperature of thousands of degrees, lethally damaging the aircraft and sending it hurtling down to…