Last year, the U.S. Navy announced that it would be installing a laser cannon on the USS Ponce. Ordinarily this might sound like a mostly symbolic gesture, given that military personnel have been using lasers to guide missiles for decades, but the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is a little different: it can actually shoot down missiles and aerial drones, as we see in this video.
While recent media coverage has emphasized LaWS’ capacity to disrupt or destroy unmanned craft and projectiles, it stands to reason that lasers may also prove useful against larger targets—especially if they can be used to incapacitate manned vessels without destroying them outright. And there have long been rumors that the new USS Zumwalt, long associated with emerging railgun technology, may host a new, much more powerful kind of post-LaWS laser weapon technology.
Beyond their basic military usefulness, it stands to reason that lasers would be more precise than explosive munitions and would minimize collateral damage when used against manned vessels. The idea of naval fleets that focus on disarming and incapacitating enemy vessels rather than blasting them apart seems a little far-fetched right now, but lasers are among the technologies under development that may make this goal achievable.