The prototype 30-kilowatt-class Laser Weapon System has been deployed on the USS Ponce since late August, officials said.
Vice Admiral John Miller, the 5th Fleet commander, said in an e-mailed statement that the Ponce ‘provides a unique platform’ to deploy the new capability ‘in an operationally relevant region’.
The device can emit a non-lethal dazzling flash to warn an adversary or a destructive beam that can set a drone or small boat on fire, Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder said at a Bloomberg Government session this year.
The Navy has been boosting its presence in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s traded oil flows, since 2011.
Iranian regime officials have periodically threatened to close the waterway with naval mines and small vessels that practice swarming tactics to attack larger warships.
The Navy laser wasn’t specifically designed or deployed to counter Iran’s arsenal of small armed vessels, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said earlier this year.
He added: “I wouldn’t target a country for a weapon, nor would I preclude putting together a weapons system for a country by itself.
“I still think we have some work to do on the technology side. How does it operate in that environment – heat, humidity, dust and at sea. It’s got to roll, move around, how much power does it take to sustain it?
“I have to take it out and get it wet, and the Arabian Gulf’s a pretty tough environment.”
The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall said in April that the laser deployment was a ‘worthwhile experiment’ because ‘it’ll help us feel out the operational limitations’ such as power constraints.
The Navy said the prototype ‘can effectively counter surface and airborne threats, to include small boats’ and costs about a dollar a shot to fire.
The lessons from the one-year Ponce deployment could also help the Navy to develop a more powerful weapon, possibly by 2021, officials said.