A drone-killing, anti-aircraft laser prototype is now in the hands of the U.S. Marines Corps.
“The Compact Laser Weapons System —or CLaWS— is the first ground-based laser approved by the Department of Defense for use by warfighters,” wrote Ashley Calingo, representing Program Executive Office (PEO) Land Systems Public Affairs, Marine Corps Systems Command.
It should be noted that the process of developing and deploying the CLaWS platform was incredibly brief, relatively speaking. From the start, the program was on “a rapid prototyping, rapid delivery track,” officials said. “This project, from start to finish —from when we awarded the DOTC [Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium] contract, to getting all the integration complete, all the testing complete, getting the Marines trained, and getting the systems ready to deploy— took about one year,” said Lt. Col. Ho Lee, product manager for ground-based air defense future weapons systems at Program Executive Office Land Systems, a branch of the Corps located in Quantico, Virginia.
The streamlining of CLaWS and other similar programs speaks to the urgency through which DoD views the developments of these futuristic platforms. There are two reasons for this: First off, directed-energy weapons are substantially cheaper to use than traditional missiles when it comes to air defense. While each round can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and have to be manufactured from scratch, an anti-aircraft laser literally produces its own ammunition and could —at least in theory— be fired endlessly.
The second reason is efficacy. When it comes to anti-aircraft or missile defense, the challenges of tracking, locking-on, and reaching a target in time are major constraints on a platform’s capabilities. Lasers travel extremely fast. The speed of light, to be precise. This factor alone allows such a weapon to circumvent many of the challenges faced by conventional platforms.