By Chris Lawrence and Lindy Royce-Bartlett
The U.S. Navy plans to deploy a laser weapon aboard a warship for the first time, Navy leaders said on Monday.
The laser will be deployed on the USS Ponce in early 2014.
"The weapon's quick-reaction capability matches what we see as potential targets" in the Persian Gulf, a Defense Department official said.
The laser has been tested against and destroyed drones and fast-moving small boats, the official said.
A second defense official said the laser is fully capable of being used against threats even though it is its first deployment.
"The system has been tested and proven. So while it's going on the Ponce as a demonstration, it is a system that can be used in real-world scenarios."
The first official estimated the cost at roughly $31 million.
"That could go down in the future, accounting for an actual procurement order," that official said.
In announcing the laser on Monday, Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder touted the technology.
He said the "solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."
He also said it's expected to ultimately save the Navy money.
"Our conservative data tells us a shot of directed energy costs under $1," Klunder explained. "Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability."
The laser does not require "unique platforms" and could potentially be deployed on a variety of ships, one of the officials said. But another also said it does have limitations.
It needs a "line of sight" for targeting. "It does not curve, and cannot go over the horizon," the official said.
He also noted that bad weather can affect the beam, but added that "bad weather can be a factor in many of our current weapons systems" as well.