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U.S. Navy to field first laser weapon, could shoot down a drone

The amphibious transport dock ship USS Ponce is seen underway in the U.S. 5th fleet area of responsibility in the Red Sea in this February 1
The amphibious transport dock ship USS Ponce is seen underway in the U.S. 5th fleet area of responsibility in the Red Sea in this February 1

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said on Monday it will deploy for the first time a laser weapon on one of its ships that could be capable of shooting down drones and disabling vessels.

"The future is here," said Peter Morrison at the Office of Naval Research's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program.

The weapon is being billed as a step toward transforming warfare. Since it runs on electricity, it can fire as long as there is power at a cost of less than $1 dollar per shot.

"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," Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, said in a statement.

The prototype, which one official said cost between $31 million and $32 million to make, will be installed aboard the USS Ponce, which is being used as a floating base in the Middle East, sometime in fiscal year 2014, which begins in October.

A Navy video showing the laser shooting down a drone can be seen at http://youtu.be/OmoldX1wKYQ

Klunder said the Navy expects that someday incoming missiles will not be able to "simply outmaneuver" a highly accurate laser beam traveling at the speed of light.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service praises the laser technology but also notes drawbacks, including the potential it could accidentally hit satellites or aircraft. Weather also affects lasers.

"Lasers might not work well, or at all, in rain or fog, preventing lasers from being an all-weather solution," it said in its report issued on March 14.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Xavier Briand)

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