Another thing the Navy is seeking is the ability to see whether a suspicious craft if friend or foe. That requires versatile - rather like the scope on a sniper rifle.
"We want the system to be modular," said Peter Morrison, ONR's solid state laser program officer. "We want to be able to adjust the capabilities installed on it, and still have the ability to dial up the laser weapon's power to defeat threats."
All of these requirements point to a need for a solid state laser, which contains a solid material (hence the name) like a crystal or doped glass. An electrical current or light is directed at the crystal, exciting atoms inside it and releasing photons. Mirrors are used to direct those photons into a beam, producing the laser.
There are other types of lasers, such as those that use gas instead of a crystal to generate the beam. They tend to be more powerful than solid state laser, but they're also more bulky, which doesn't suit the deck of ship.
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Another advantage of solid-state lasers is that they can take the heat. Roger McGinnis, ONR's innovative naval prototype program executive, added that the power levels in solid-state lasers are easier to control than in other types.
Besides putting it on a ship, Morrison said one idea is to put it on an aircraft, though the details haven't been worked out yet.
Photo: A laser weapon of the type tested as part of the Office of Naval Research-funded Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD) in April 2011. Credit: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams via: Office of Naval Research