The U.S. Navy tested a new laser weapon in the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia, on Tuesday and hit a floating target, according to a press release from the U.S. military. And as the Associated Press notes, the Navy could soon be using this technology to fight uncrewed boats sent by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.
The laser weapons test was conducted by the USS Portland, which was chosen by the U.S. Office of Naval Research in 2018 to become equipped with the cutting-edge technology.
“During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser - Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator (LWSD) Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully engaged a static surface training target,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement announcing the test.
“Portland previously tested the LWSD in May 2020 when it successfully disabled a small unmanned aerial system while operating in the Pacific Ocean,” the statement continued.
From the Associated Press:
The Houthis have deployed drone boats into these waters, which can be piloted remotely and sent up to a target before detonating. These boats are suspected of being built with Iran’s help.
Emirati officials in 2018 showed off footage they described as coming from a drone boat computer that had Iranians building components for the boat’s guidance system, with a hat visible in the background of one picture bearing the symbol of Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Iran has denied arming the Houthis, though United Nations experts, independent analysts and Western nations point to evidence showing Tehran’s link to the weapons.
And while lasers are only now being deployed in the battlefield here in the 21st century, they’ve been a dream of warfare for much longer. In fact, the U.S. military first shot down a drone with a laser in 1973 during tests at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
But why is the U.S. Navy testing this particular technology in this part of the world? According to the military, it’s just the perfect location.
“The region’s geography, climate, and strategic importance offer a unique environment for technology innovation,” the Navy said in a statement.
“U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of operations includes the world’s largest standing maritime partnership, Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.”
Roughly 16 million people in war-torn Yemen are currently “marching towards starvation,” according to the UN World Food Program.