Sailors have been authorized to use a cutting-edge laser weapon in self-defense, Navy officials said Wednesday.

The Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, has been onboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf since September. During the past few months, the Navy has been testing it in an operational environment for the first time to see how it performs in real-world conditions, attacking small surface vessels and unmanned aerial vehicles similar to those that could pose a threat to American ships in the region.

The system has gone after mock targets both mobile and stationary. […]