In both cases, Iran seeks to use the many and cheap to overcome the few and expensive. That is, swarming seeks to use basic arithmetic to overwhelm America’s superior military systems. To do this successfully, swarming must mirror missiles in being overwhelmingly cheaper to use offensively than to defend against.
Laser systems seek to deny swarming tactics this advantage. Instead of defending against swarming tactics with expensive anti-ship and anti-air missiles, lasers will allow America to destroy large swarms of speedboats or drones cheaply. At $1 per shot of a directed energy source, the Navy has said the cost of these laser systems is about 1/100th of existing missile systems. Equally important, unlike missiles—where space constraints limit the number warships they can carry—lasers never run out. As Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said of lasers last year, "This is a revolutionary capability…. this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives."
Not surprisingly, the Navy is currently testing the LaWS in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Ponce. That ship features a gun that uses “electromagnetic force to send a missile to a range of 125 miles at 7.5 times the speed of sound.” Although lasers still face crucial limitations, such as their ability to operate in less than perfect weather conditions, expect the Navy to work out the kinks in the years ahead.
When it does, Iran’s day of reckoning may be near.
Zachary Keck is a former managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck. This first appeared several years ago and is being republished due to reader interest.