US laser weapons: advantages, disadvantages and prospects


On July 18, 2017, the world media struck the public with headlines: "The United States tested laser weapons in the Persian Gulf." The American television channel CNN has released a video recording the test of a laser weapon produced by the US Navy. Two targets were successfully hit by laser gun shots, showing the world what the US laser weapon is capable of. The gun under the designation XN-1 LaWS on the landing ship of the US Navy. USS Ponce is now the only laser gun in service with the US Navy, but the Pentagon is already focused on developing and building new weapons and warships and aircraft. What kind of laser weapons is in service with the US Army? What are its technical data? What are the plans of the US military-industrial complex in this important issue? about this you will learn from this article.


Miracle weapon

The great minds of mankind, at the beginning of the 20th century, predicted the appearance of radiation weapons. The idea of ​​a weapon capable of penetrating any armor and guaranteed to hit the target was reflected in the works of science fiction. These are the Oscar Wilde's Martian tripods in the War of the Worlds, and the high-power heat ray by A. N. Tolstoy in Engineer Garin's Hyperboloid, and their numerous followers in literature and cinema. The most famous work, which implements the idea of ​​laser weapons, can rightly be called "Star Wars" by George Lucas.

In the 1950s of the last century, laser weapons came to the attention of the military. Simultaneously, the development of working versions of lasers were conducted in the USA and the USSR. The United States in the development of laser weapons focused primarily on missile defense.

Star wars ronald reagan


The first step of the United States in the field of laser weapons was the program of the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as the project "Star Wars". It was supposed to launch satellites equipped with lasers into orbit for destroying Soviet ballistic missiles at the highest point of their trajectory. A large-scale program for the development and production of early-detection systems for launching missiles was launched, and according to some unconfirmed data, the first satellites with laser weapons were launched into space in a situation of special secrecy.

The project of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), in fact, became the forerunner of the American missile defense system, around which disputes and verbal battles do not cease. But the PIO was not destined to fully translate into reality. The project lost its relevance and was closed in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the existing developments were used in other similar projects, including the above-mentioned missile defense system, and some individual developments were adapted for civilian needs, such as the satellite GPS system.

Boeing YAL-1. The impossible dream of a laser bomber


The first attempt to revive the concept of the use of radiation weapons in combat conditions was the project of an aircraft that would be able to shoot down nuclear missiles even on takeoff. In 2002, an experimental Boeing YAL-1 aircraft with a chemical laser was built, which successfully passed several tests, but the program was closed in 2011 due to budget cuts. The problem of the project, which nullified all its advantages, was that YAL-1 could only shoot 200 kilometers, which in the conditions of full-scale hostilities would lead to the fact that the plane would simply be shot down by enemy air defenses.

Rebirth of the US Laser Weapons

The new American defense doctrine, which envisioned the creation of a national missile defense system, once again aroused the military’s interest in radiation weapons.

In 2004, the US Army tested laser weapons in combat conditions. The ZEUS combat laser mounted on the HMMWV SUV in Afghanistan successfully coped with the destruction of unexploded ordnance and mines. Also, under unconfirmed information, the United States experienced a laser weapon in the Persian Gulf in 2003, during Operation Shock and Awe (military invasion of Iraq).


In 2008, the American company Northrop Grumman Corporation, together with the Defense Ministry of Israel, developed a Skyguard laser defense system. Northrop Grumman is also developing beam weapons for the US Navy. In 2011, active tests were conducted, but nothing is known about the existing products. It is assumed that the new laser will be 5 times more powerful than what the United States has experienced in the Persian Gulf in July 2017.

Later, Boeing began the development of a HEL MD laser development program that successfully passed combat tests in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, Boeing introduced a laser power of up to 2 kW, which successfully shot down a drone during training.

Also, the development of beam weapons are conducted in the company Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. According to the US Department of Defense, tests of laser weapons will be held annually.

XN-1 LaWS System


The XN-1 LaWS laser gun was developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions in 2014 and was immediately installed on board the USS Ponce obsolete amphibious assault ship selected to test the new gun system. The power of the gun is 30 kW, the approximate cost is 30 million US dollars, the speed of the “projectile” is more than 1 billion km / h with a cost of one shot of 1 dollar. Installation control is carried out by 3 people.


The advantages of a US laser weapon are directly based on the specifics of its use. They are listed below:

  1. He does not need ammunition, as it works on electricity.
  2. The laser is much more accurate than a firearm, since there are practically no external factors on the projectile.
  3. Another important advantage results from accuracy - collateral damage is absolutely excluded. The beam hits the target without harming the surrounding objects, which allows it to be used in densely populated areas, where the use of conventional artillery and bombardment is fraught with great casualties among civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.
  4. The laser is silent, and its shot cannot be traced, which allows it to be used in special operations, where stealth and noiselessness are the main success factors.


Of the obvious advantages of a laser weapon are its disadvantages, namely:

  1. Power consumption too high. Large systems will need large-sized generators, which will significantly limit the mobility of the artillery systems on which they will be installed.
  2. High accuracy only when firing direct fire, which dramatically reduces the effectiveness of the application on land.
  3. The laser beam can be reflected with the help of inexpensive materials, the production of which is established in many states. Thus, a representative of the Minister of War of China declared in 2014 that Chinese tanks are fully protected from American lasers thanks to a special protective layer.

Prospects for US laser weapons


So what is the ray weapon in the future? Will we see scenes familiar to every fan of fiction, where giant lasers are commonplace? Based on recent trends, the power of the new US laser weapon will grow, and after it the destructive potential will increase.

Developers of radiation weapons are already facing the eternal problem of “shield-sword” - it will be necessary to overcome the resistance of new protective coatings, which will be improved as the power of the laser weapon grows. With each new weapon system, the range of US laser weapons is increasing, which opens up a new way to use it - the fight against space debris. There is also a tendency to reduce the size of the apparatus without losing power, which further leads to the fact that we get enough small weapons that can be installed on fighter planes and even once become personal weapons of soldiers.

Therefore, each new test of US laser weapons is of such keen interest to all world military experts. But do not think that the old weapons systems will remain in the past. Do not forget that laser weapons are effective only in the conditions of direct visibility of the target, because conventional artillery and high-precision missiles will still be central to theaters of operations.

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