American warships could be armed with disposable laser weapons within five years, if a plan by U.S. Navy scientists works as promised.Michael Wardlaw, with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, has proposed that the Navy use a battery of solid-state, one-shot-only lasers to zap enemy boats and defend against missile attacks. This Expendable Modular High Energy Laser (EMHEL), Jane's Defence Weekly reports, would use a brick of 120, meter-long laser modules that could fire individually or in one giant pulse."Each individual module would contain a single-shot laser capable of firing 10 kilojoules of energy at peak power in a single burst," Jane's notes. "With such a system, Wardlaw said, 'you can drill through 6in [15cm] of steel in under a second.'" (emphasis mine)
Wardlaw noted that, given proper funding, he "could envision having modules available within a year and systems available in probably five" years. The EMHEL could be ready so soon, he explained, because work on the concept has already been conducted and because "it's more a new way of thinking about the problem than it is a technological challenge."By dropping the requirement for the laser to have to survive for multiple shots and instead being expendable, Wardlaw said, the cost of each can be reduced dramatically. And by having small modules that can be mass-produced, economies of scale can be achieved during production, reducing costs still further.