Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May 18, 2015
Subrata Ghoshroy, Adjunct Faculty, ISSSP, NIAS
In December 2014, the US Navy made a great show of their test of a laser weapon in what it called the “realistic threat environment” of the Persian Gulf. Video from the test, made available to the press, showed the USS Ponce firing the Laser Weapon System to burn some holes through the sides of some speedboats, causing the boats’ contents to explode. Other tests apparently shot some drone replicas out of the sky. To an old hand in the laser research industry, the tests were underwhelming. They reminded me of an old cartoon in which someone shot an arrow at the side of a barn, then painted a bulls-eye around the spot where the arrow landed. Similarly, after years of false promises, boondoggles, and an enormous waste of taxpayer money going back to the early years of the Reagan era, the military laser lobby came up with these tests. When they couldn’t get a laser lightweight enough to fit on a ship while still being powerful enough to burn through the metal skin of an incoming nuclear missile, they simply changed their goal to something akin to puncturing the side of an Iranian rubber dinghy.