Battlespace IT

Navy cranks up the power on laser weapon

The Navy is looking to hunt bigger game with its laser weapons by increasing their power fivefold.

National Defense reports that the service is preparing to test a 150-kilowatt laser, which would be considerably more powerful than the 30-kilowatt weapon it deployed on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf in 2014.

The 30-kiliwatt system aboard the Ponce, known as LaWS (laser-mounted weapon system), has been shown to take out small drones, but 100 kilowatts has been seen as the threshold for weapons-grade lasers  that could be more effective against small boats and larger drones. To date, one of the biggest barriers to more powerful lasers has been the cooling required when using them.

The Navy, like the other military services, has emphasized the importance of lasers, or directed-energy weapons, as part of its future arsenal. The Army, for instance, has conducted live-fire testing of its truck-mounted HEL system, and the Air Force is exploring the use of ultra-short pulse lasers. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory last year began field tests of another high-powered, 150-kilowatt system, known as HELLADS, for High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System. The Marines also have plans for vehicle-mounted lasers.

Despite recent progress, laser systems still have their limitations—for one thing, bad weather can interfere with their operation and, of course they’re still not as powerful as a kinetic weapon such as a missile. But they’re a lot cheaper to operate, costing a couple of dollars per shot. And as long as a ship has power, it won’t run out of ammunition (nor does the ship have to store than ammo). So while they won’t replace kinetic weapons, they can be used to augment them.

Last October, the Office of Naval Research awarded Northrop Grumman a $53 million contract—with potential ceiling of $91 million—for its Solid State High Power Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) program, intended as a rapid development program to build a more powerful laser.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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