WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps is testing a prototype laser weapon that could be used by war fighters on the ground to counter enemy drones, according to a Wednesday news release.

The prototype Compact Laser Weapons System — or CLaWS — is the first ground-based laser approved by the Defense Department for use by ground troops, the Marine Corps explained.

The program is on a rapid prototyping, rapid delivery track, the service said.

“This project, from start to finish — from when we awarded the DOTC [Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium] contract, to getting all the integration complete, all the testing complete, getting the Marines trained, and getting the systems ready to deploy — took about one year,” said Lt. Col. Ho Lee, product manager for ground-based air defense future weapons systems at Program Executive Office Land Systems.

The Defense Department believes lasers are a more affordable alternative to traditional firepower and that they prevent drones from tracking and targeting Marines on the ground. The release notes the laser is not a standalone weapon, but is meant to serve as part of a larger counter-drone system.

If the prototype is successful, it could be incorporated into fixed-site and mobile capabilities designed to counter unmanned aircraft, the Marine Corps said.

The Army and Navy are also exploring the possibilities of laser technology.

Cal Pringle is a general assignment editorial fellow supporting Defense News, C4ISRNET and Fifth Domain. He is attending the University of Richmond.

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