Battlespace Tech

Navy requests proposals for new high power surface laser

The Navy is collecting industry proposals for the development of a new Surface Navy Laser Weapon (SNLW), as part of the its very first Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation Demonstration (RPED) project to install a more powerful directed energy weapon in the Arleigh Burke class destroyer.

 The SNLW system project, known as the Sea Saber Program until just a few weeks ago, is an initiative by the Integrated Warfare Systems 2.0 office, according to Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, Commander, Naval Surface Warfare Center, who spoke at the Navy League’s Sea, Air & Space exhibition last week.

The goal of the new surface laser weapon project is to create a laser that has at least 65kW of power and counter-ISR dazzling ability that can be integrated with the Aegis Combat System of the Arleigh Burke class, according to the Request for Information.

The previous laser deployed in 2014 was a 30 kW weapon, according to a Defense Systems report last year. A 65kW laser, like the proposed SNLW, would be a more effective weapon, but also a more energy-consuming one.

“The Navy will be looking at ships’ servers to provide three times that much power,” Donald Klick, Director of business development for DRS Power and Control Technologies told Defense Systems earlier this year. In other words, a 65kW laser would require almost 200kW of input power.  

The latest progress in terms of electrical power for systems like the SNLW is the Energy Magazine II, an effort to increase available power onboard ships through eliminating intermediate power equipment stages, such as capacitors, filters and transistors, according to Mr. Steve Markle, Director of the Electric Ships Office. The latest Integrated Power Energy System initiative aims to achieve the ability to generate 1200 volts of DC power, Markle said.

In addition, the Navy specifies that the SNLW should have Counter-ISR dazzling capability. Dazzling is the term for temporarily debilitating a sensor by overloading it with electromagnetic power, such as from a laser and temporarily blinding enemy sensors.

The platform of the new SPLW, the DDG 51 Flight IIA or Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, has an updated hull-form of all steel, and the destroyer propulsion of the Spruance class DD 963, according to the Navy. The Flight IIA variant is built to incorporate mine-avoidance and mine-hunting technology, and can deploy two Lamps MK III MH-60 helicopters. It uses a zonal electrical distributed system and the Aegis Combat System, which the SNLW system is intended to integrate with.

The Aegis Combat System is the primary ballistic defense system used at sea.

The SNLW system development will be the Navy’s first RPED project,  and the creation of the new project category is based on the idea that the sooner the new technology is tested in the field, the sooner the Navy will be able to determine whether to continue development efforts and what improvements need to be made, before investing too much funding.

The Integrated Warfare Systems office wants to have the first SNLW system Increment 1 system ready to install on the DDG 51 Flight IIA as soon as possible, and the implication is that the SNLW system will be accelerated acquisition once a development proposal is approved.

“For cutting-edge technologies, like [directed energy], we can synergize on resolving specific risk areas by collaborating on prototyping efforts. Our expected result is lift in affordability, risk reduction, industry investment alignment, and most importantly, getting capability into the hands of our warfighters faster,” said Rear Adm. Jon Hill, Deputy Director of the Missile Defense Agency.

“There’s lots of research and development across the defense industry for the utilization of lasers. The maritime domain is a little bit different than the shore domain, it’s much more challenging at sea for lasers. So that’s some the additional work that we have to do,” explained Druggan.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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