London: Laser beams have been used for the first time in naval warfare to shoot down aircraft.
The weapon, mounted on a warship’s missile, shot down four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in secret testing carried out off the California coast, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
In a joint enterprise between US Navy and Raytheon Missile Systems the technology has now got to the stage where lasers will be deployed on warships as part of their short-range defence.
For the first time a solid state 32 mega watt laser beam of directed energy has been fired from a warship to a distance of more than three km burning into a drone travelling at about 480 kmph.
The laser is mounted on a Phalanx close-in weapon system that has a radar detection system. The targeting system was used in Iraq, to train fire from a Gatling gun onto rockets and mortars raining down on British bases.
Raytheon developed the system after buying six off-the-shelf commercial lasers from the car industry and joining them to make a single, powerful beam guided by the Phalanx’s radars.
Unlike other tests which have been conducted on aircraft it uses a solid state laser rather than a chemical generated beam.
Mike Booen, vice president of directed energy weapons at Raytheon, said the tests off San Nicolas Island were "a great day for the laser".
"This is more real than Star Wars," he said, speaking at the Farnborough Air Show. "Our lasers destroyed the UAVs lighting them on fire."
"This is the first successful shoot down over water. We are now on the path to deliver the first battlefield lasers integrated into real weapons systems," he said.
With drones being used more frequently to spy on or attack fleets in future warfare it is necessary to make defences against them.
The laser system, which is mostly situated under the deck, fires an invisible beam that is only seen when it strikes an intruder. The system is also being developed to tackle small boats and potentially anti-ship missiles and will be ready for full military development by 2016.
"This will proceed to production because it is solving real problem," Booen said.
Raytheon have steadily been developing laser technology for several years developing a land system that can shoot down mortar rounds.