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US Navy orders laser machine guns

But keeps option to fire regular, enormous bullets

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

US Navy warships will soon be equipped with fearful combination weapons mounts boasting both heavy machine-guns and high powered laser rayguns, it has been announced.

Manufacturer Boeing says it has inked a teaming agreement with the US operations of arms globo-mammoth BAE Systems to build the Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System to naval requirements. We learn that the new raygun installation will be based on the existing Mk 38 Machine Gun System, a robotic gun turret whose primary punch is provided by the fearsome M242 Bushmaster Chain Gun, effectively a light auto-cannon.

The new enhanced laser version will also boast a high-energy laser intended for such tasks as raying small flying robots and/or boats:

The addition of the laser weapon module brings high-precision accuracy against surface and air targets such as small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. The system also provides the ability to deliver different levels of laser energy, depending on the target and mission objectives.

We aren't told the power level offered by the laser, which suggests that it isn't very high: raygun projects always like to boast of any decent power level. The fact that the laser is small enough to be clipped onto an existing weapon also suggests light weight and limited puissance, as does the suggestion that it is an alternative to the Bushmaster rather than a replacement for it.

Though probably quite feeble, the laser might not be without its uses. US Navy boffins recently used an unimpressive 15-kilowatt unit to set a small boat on fire in recent seagoing tests, arguing that such kit has the power to see off minor targets at least. When one thinks of a situation with a boat attack close inshore or in crowded waters – where it could be difficult to cut loose with the Bushmaster for fear of hitting things beyond the target – the laser could be handy. It might also serve as a warning.

Then, one notes that the Bushmaster is capable of loosing off its entire magazine of 25mm shells in less than a minute, while the laser can potentially keep beaming as long as there is power on the mount.

Even so, the day of the raygun dreadnought is plainly not here yet, the more so as the US Navy's own Free Electron Laser project – aimed at producing megawatt-range war rayguns – was recently halted by Washington politicians. ®

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