Raytheon has unveiled its anti-aircraft laser at the Farnborough Airshow in the United Kingdom. The Laser Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) can either be used on its own or alongside a gunnery system. In May, the laser was used to shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a series of tests. Raytheon said the solid-state fiber laser can be used against UAV, mortar, rockets and small surface ships.
For the first time a solid-state 32 megawatt laser beam of directed energy has been fired from a warship to a distance of more than two miles burning into a drone traveling at about 300mph. The laser is mounted on a Phalanx close in weapons system that has a radar detection system. The idea of using lasers as weapons has been around almost as long as the laser itself, invented in 1960.
Last year, a Boeing laser mounted on a regular Humvee military truck tracked and shot down a drone. But at sea there is a unique challenge: the laser has to fire from a moving, rolling ship, with salt-laden air severely weakening its beam.
Raytheon is not saying how it overcame the beam-weakening problem, but says it has designed its laser weapon to operate on the US Navy and Coast Guard's standard ship defense system, Phalanx. This includes a high-speed, high-calibre Gatling gun that counteracts the ship's movement to track and shred any inbound drone or rocket with a fusillade of tungsten armor-piercing rounds.
Such lasers are allowed under the UN protocol on blinding laser weapons because they are not specifically designed as blinding weapons alone.
BBC News: Anti-aircraft laser unveiled at Farnborough Airshow
New Scientist: Navy laser roasts incoming drones in mid-air
The Telegraph: Laser used to shoot down planes
Related article from SPIE Professional magazine (April 2010):
Lasers as Weapons: Defending against multiple threats at the same time has been a powerful lure for military research.