Navy Laser Weapon System Live Firing Onboard USS Ponce

The U.S. Navy has deployed the LaWS Laser Weapon System prototype for operational testing on board the USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15, interim Afloat Forward Staging Base) in the Persian Gulf. Office Of Naval Research video

The "Star Wars"-esque laser weapon system was installed on the afloat forward staging base mphibious transport dock Ponce in September and officials said it's held up well in harsh conditions of the Gulf – known for its sandstorms and high humidity.

"It's working, and it's working beyond our expectations," said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, head of the Office of Naval Research.

Klunder said the laser, known as LaWS for Laser Weapon System, has worked well in high humidity and in heavy sea states -- key challenges for a shipboard laser -- against small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles, all for about 59 cents per shot.

The system is operated by a sailor with a flat screen monitor and a gaming system-like controller, and has been fully integrated into the Ponce's combat system, Klunder said.

"Any of you who can use X-Box or PS4, you can do this," he said in a Dec. 10 roundtable with reporters. "It's that simple."

The laser can be scaled up from simply dazzling a target, to disabling or destroying a target with its 30 kilowatt blast, Klunder said, a unique capability allowing operators to easily step up the level of force from warning shot to destructive intercept.

Ultimately, he said, the Navy is looking to deploy even bigger lasers that would produce a laser beam as powerful as 150 kilowatts or greater and that could be mounted on a littoral combat ship or destroyer.

The Navy is also looking to mount lasers on air frames and in ground installations as well.

The laser has also given the Navy a boost on the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance front because of a powerful telescope incorporated in LaWS.

"It's almost like the Hubble telescope at sea," said Klunder said, who declined to specify ranges but said the scope could see "way out there."

Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, who heads an office that deals with ship design and systems integration at Naval Sea Systems Command, also acknowledged the weapon can't be allowed in all weather conditions. ddressed some of the criticisms of the laser that say the weapon cant be relied upon in a sand storm or in heavy rain.

"If we're in some horrendous sandstorm, most of the threats aren't going to be very operational either," Fuller said.

Klunder said the weapon hasn't been tested in those conditions to date because it didn't make much sense to do so.

The prototype LaWS on Ponce cost about $40 million to develop and install, Klunder said.