Pew Pew Pew! Navy Shoots Down Drone With Laser.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 9 2013 1:25 PM

Pew Pew Pew! Drones Are No Match for the Navy's New Lasers.

US Navy's Laser Weapon System
Drones may have finally met their match.

Screenshot / YouTube

Lasers sound like they'd make awesome weapons: They're accurate, they travel at the speed of light, and you never run out of ammo. But the military has struggled to build a laser weapon practical and powerful enough to use in the field—until now.

On Monday, the Navy announced that it plans to deploy its first shipboard laser in the Persian Gulf next year, for use against Iranian attack speedboats and drones. The laser isn't powerful enough to shoot down a missile, but as the video below shows, it can burn right through a small unmanned aircraft. Less-powerful settings give it the option to "dazzle" a drone's sensors without taking it down.

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The laser system is still in development, but so far it has successfully destroyed all 12 of the small boats and drones that the Navy has tested it on, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The system is far from perfect. It doesn't work in bad weather, and it fires only in a straight line, so it can't aim around obstacles, limiting its usefulness on land.

The upside is that it's cheap and easy to use. A nonpartisan study for Congress puts the cost of a sustained pulse at less than a dollar, compared to some $1.4 million for a short-range interceptor missile.

That makes it perhaps the perfect kryptonite for drones, which until now have been proliferating like an invasive species in the absence of natural predators. Drones vs. lasers: Welcome to the 21st century.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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