A common sight on American warships is a green-light laser that can be used to communicate between ships or discourage, or even temporarily blind, operators of small boats that get too close to the ship. The British were the first to equip their warships with these lasers and they were used during the 1982 Falkland Islands war against Argentine fighter pilots. Those British lasers were capable of blinding people at close range and that was one of the situations that led to a 1995 international treaty banning military use of lasers that permanently blinded people. Most nations have observed that treaty but a notable exception is China, which equips its warships with a more powerful laser that can cause permanent blindness under some conditions. These lasers have been used against American patrol aircraft in the South China Sea.
These lasers were initially developed as pointing devices and became popular with teachers and anyone giving a presentation. These were the “eye safe” green lasers and by 2005 U.S. troops in Iraq discovered that the green laser pointer could be used to force oncoming drivers to halt. These commercial pointers had a range of about two kilometers and cost about $70. Eventually, the U.S. Army bought them in bulk and distributed them to troops manning checkpoints or base entrances. By 2006 green lasers were mounted on M-4 assault rifles (in place of the grenade launcher under the barrel) to make it easier to aim at the driver of an oncoming vehicle.
The U.S. Department of Defense also began developing more capable laser devices and encouraged commercial firms to manufacture them for the military. This led to such popular devices as the LA-9/P, which became available in 2010. This device can be mounted on a rifle, or simply a rifle stock, and used by individuals. The LA-9/P weighs less than a kilogram (1.6 pounds) and is powered by three AA batteries. This device is visible up to 1,500 meters in daylight and 4,000 meters at night. At 500 meters the LA-9/P can dazzle or blind, which is especially effective against operators of small boats. The LA-9/P can be set to disable the dazzle/blinding option if it is not needed.
Another 2010 laser tech development was a U.S. Army green laser “dazzler” device, This was used in Afghanistan, mounted in the CROWS RWS (remotely controlled gun turret) found in many hummers and most armored vehicles. The main function of the dazzler was to get vehicles approaching checkpoints at high speed to stop. Troops don’t know if an approaching vehicle, especially at night, was a suicide bomber or a driver simply seeking to buzz past the check point. Without the dazzler, the only option is to open fire. This often gets civilians killed. Most Afghans don’t appreciate the security aspect, and believe a driver has the right to try and zip past a checkpoint. The dazzler can also be used on hostile gunmen to ruin their aim.
These new American lasers are called GLEF (Green Laser Escalation of Force). Unlike the earlier handheld green lasers GLEF, when mounted in CROWS, is easier to aim and use, and also can quickly add machine-gun fire if the dazzled target turns out to be hostile.
Similar green lasers have been around for a while. In 2009 Canada bought 750 similar VWT (Visual Warning Technology) systems, for about $7,500 each. These are eye safe (they won't blind you permanently) green laser pointers mounted in a weather proof, articulated enclosure, that enables the troops to operate the laser remotely, to flash the laser light at oncoming drivers, to get them to stop at checkpoints or other locations.
Unlike urban Iraq, where information gets around quickly, the Canadians in Afghanistan also launched a publicity campaign there to get people, especially those in rural areas where the troops operate, informed about the green lasers. Even if people don't get the message, they will know enough to hit the brakes if they get an eye full of green laser.
Warships most often use the LA-9/P just to warn small boats away to avoid collision or to keep them outside of a security zone. On land the special laser dazzlers are used to blind the fire control systems of hostile armored vehicles. Yet the most common use of the eye-safe lasers is still as an alternative to opening fire with bullets at checkpoints or aboard ships.