The US Navy is preparing to deploy an experimental laser weapon in the Gulf in a bid to deter Iran from using small boats to attack American warships, according to The Washington Post.
The $40m laser cannon would be deployed on the USS Ponce, an amphibious assault ship used in the Gulf for mine clearance and humanitarian operations.
The laser system is still being development but during testing it had destroyed all of its 12 drone and small boat targets, US Navy officials said.
The system uses directed energy to disable sensors or burn holes through a plane or ship. Its limited range means the weapon will not be able to target incoming missiles or jets but it could be effective in combating Iranian fast boats and any drones Iran is developing, officials said.
The Pentagon has struggled for years to develop effective laser weapons systems, including those mounted on planes intended to shoot down missiles, the newspaper reported.
The laser system is the first weapon of its kind to be deployed to the Gulf, where the US has a strong presence and is keen to ensure the waterways remain open following Iranian threats to close the channel, through which about one-fifth of the world’s oil is transported.
However, in January the Defense Department announced it was reducing the number of aircraft carriers in the Gulf from two to one due to budget cuts.
Small attack boats pose a particular threat to the US military. In 2000, a small boat filled with explosives hit the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors.
Last year, US Navy supply ship Rappahannock opened fire on what was described as a fast-approaching boat off Jebel Ali port, killing an Indian fisherman and injuring three others.
Despite later realising it was a civilian vessel, the US Navy this week cleared the sailors of any wrongdoing.