Navy ships face an increasing number of threats in conducting their missions, including UAVs, armed small boats, and adversary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. The US Navy is concerned about the survivability of Navy surface ships in potential combat situations against adversaries, such as China, that are armed with large numbers of missiles, including advanced models, and large numbers of UAV. In response, the Navy surface evolved a new organizing for the Navy’s surface fleet called distributed lethality. Under distributed lethality, offensive weapons such as anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) are to be distributed across a wider array of Navy surface ships, and new operational concepts for Navy surface ship formations are to be implemented.
The aim of distributed lethality is to boost the surface fleet’s capability for attacking enemy ships and make it less possible for an enemy to cripple the U.S. fleet by concentrating its attacks on a few very high-value Navy surface ships (particularly the Navy’s aircraft carriers), according to Congressional Research Service Report.
“Although Navy surface ships have a number of means for defending themselves against anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), some observers are concerned about the survivability of Navy surface ships in potential combat situations against adversaries, such as China, that are armed with advanced ASCMs and with ASBMs,” observes CRS report: Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress.
Three new ship-based weapons being developed by the Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP), also known as the hypervelocity projectile (HVP)—could substantially improve the ability of Navy surface ships to defend themselves against surface craft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and eventually antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs).
The requirement for the laser stems from the proliferation of high-tech, anti-ship cruise missiles that travel at ever-increasing speeds with greater degrees of sophistication. Although Navy surface ships have a number of means for defending themselves against anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), some observers are concerned about the survivability of Navy surface ships in potential combat situations against adversaries, such as China, that are armed with advanced ASCMs and with ASBMs.
Two key limitations that Navy surface ships currently have in defending themselves against ASCMs and ASBMs are limited depth of magazine and unfavorable cost exchange ratios. Limited depth of magazine refers to the fact that Navy surface ships can use surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and their Close-in Weapon System (CIWS) Gatling guns to shoot down only a certain number of enemy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and anti-ship missiles. But the U.S. believes China and Russia are developing tactics and systems to force ships to expend all their missiles against an incoming salvo, and they might accomplish this by firing more missiles than the ships can shoot down — a saturation attack designed to leave the ships helpless after a certain number of salvos
Unfavorable cost exchange ratios refer to the fact that a SAM used to shoot down a UAV or anti-ship missile can cost the Navy more to procure than it cost the adversary to build or acquire the UAV or anti-ship missile. In the FY2018 defense budget, procurement costs for Navy SAMs range from about $976,000 per missile to several million dollars per missile, depending on the type.
Laser weapons use high power lasers to damage or destroy adversary equipment, facilities, and personnel. SSLs, offer a potential for dramatically improving depth of magazine and the cost exchange ratio: Depth of magazine. SSLs are electrically powered, drawing their power from the ship’s overall electrical supply, and can be fired over and over, indefinitely, as long as the laser continues to work and the ship has fuel to generate electricity. Cost exchange ratio. An SSL can be fired for a marginal cost of less than one dollar per shot (which is the cost of the fuel needed to generate the electricity used in the shot), while GLGP reportedly had an estimated unit procurement cost in 2018 of about $85,000.
In addition to a low marginal cost per shot and deep magazine, potential advantages of shipboard lasers include fast engagement times, an ability to counter radically maneuvering missiles, an ability to conduct precision engagements, and an ability to use lasers for graduated responses ranging from detecting and monitoring targets to causing disabling damage.
The technology provides major advantages for military applications due to High precision and rapid on-target effect, precise and scalable effects, Avoidance of collateral damage caused by fragmenting ammunition, Low logistics overhead and minimum costs per firing. Lasers can follow and maintain their beam on radically maneuvering missiles that might stress the maneuvering capabilities of Navy SAMs. Light from a laser beam can reach a target almost instantly (eliminating the need to calculate an intercept course, as there is with interceptor missiles) and, by remaining focused on a particular spot on the target, cause disabling damage to the target within seconds.
Navy surface ships would use high-energy SSLs initially for jamming or confusing (i.e., “dazzling”) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, for countering small boats and UAVs, and potentially in the future for countering enemy missiles as well. High-energy SSLs on Navy ships would generally be short-range defensive weapons—they would generally counter targets at ranges of about one mile to perhaps eventually a few miles.
Lasers can perform functions other than destroying targets, including detecting and monitoring targets and producing nonlethal effects, including reversible jamming of electro-optic (EO) sensors. Lasers offer the potential for graduated responses that range from warning targets to reversibly jamming their systems, to causing limited but not disabling damage (as a further warning), and then finally causing disabling damage.
The first generation Navy surface ships used high-energy SSLs initially for countering small boats, UAVs, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors. Between 2009 and 2012, the Navy successfully tested a prototype SSL called the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) against UAVs in a series of engagements that took place initially on land and subsequently on a Navy ship at sea. LaWS had a reported beam power of 30 kilowatts (kW).The system, offers military leaders precision accuracy at cost as low as a dollar per shot.
High-energy SSLs that have enough beam power to counter small boats and UAVs, but not enough to counter missiles, could nevertheless indirectly improve a ship’s ability to counter missiles by permitting the ship to use fewer of its SAMs for countering UAVs, and more of them
for countering missiles.
In August 2014, the Navy installed LaWS on the USS Ponce (pronounced ponSAY)—a converted amphibious ship that operated in the Persian Gulf as an interim Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB[I])—to conduct evaluation of shipboard lasers in an operational setting against swarming boats and swarming UAVs. In December 2014, the Navy declared LaWS on the Ponce to be an “operational”
system. Ponce remained in the Persian Gulf until it was relieved in September 2017 by its replacement, the new-construction Expeditionary Sea Base ship Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3).
The LaWS system integrates six solid-state IR beams, tunable to either low output for warning and sensor crippling, or high output for target destruction. The system is powered and cooled by a so-called “skid” that provides power through a diesel generator and is separate from Ponce’s electrical systems. ONR showed off a video in which the LaWS system — mounted on the ship’s super structure above the bridge — disabled a small Scan Eagle-sized UAV, detonated a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and burned out the engine of a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB).
It is now developing next generation laser DEW for countering ASCMs and ASBMs as well.
Challenges to laser weapons deployment on Warships
Developing high power laser weapons have to contend with many challenges including high power fiber laser and beam combining technologies, laser beam quality , efficiency, heat dissipation, and thermal management , thermal blooming, laser pointing and tracking etc. The operations in Marine environment pose additional challenges.
Potential limitations of shipboard lasers relate to line of sight; atmospheric absorption, scattering, and turbulence (which prevent shipboard lasers from being all-weather weapons); an effect known as thermal blooming that can reduce laser effectiveness; countering saturation attacks; possible adversary use of hardened targets and countermeasures; and risk of collateral damage, including damage to aircraft and satellites and permanent damage to human eyesight, including blinding. Current laser technologies are approximately 30 percent electrically efficient.
In the near term, many challenges remain to develop and operate high-energy laser systems in the maritime environment that are unique to the Navy and Marine Corps. Among these challenges is dealing with the heat generated as power levels increase. A second issue is packing sufficient power on the platform, which will require advanced battery, generator, power conditioning, and hybrid energy technologies.
Corrosion and contamination of optical windows by shipboard salt spray, dirt, and grime also are technical challenges. In addition, atmospheric turbulence resulting from shifting weather conditions, moisture, and dust is problematic. Turbulence can cause the air over long distances to act like a lens, resulting in the laser beam’s diffusing and distorting, which degrades its performance.
Systems not only have to operate successfully on a ship during various sea states but also have to be effective in fog, darkness and sun in a sea environment of salt spray, which may be hard on equipment and optics. They have to account for the waves and the related pitch, roll and yaw movements and the ship vibrations, along with the movement of targets. Jim Leary, director, Boeing weapons global sales and marketing, confirms that with sea applications of laser weapons, it may be pretty rough seas for maintaining acquisition, tracking and pointing of a laser weapon. The company has successfully been able to “acquire targets at operational distances in Sea State 5 and maintain that track and destroy it,” Leary says.
Much progress has been made in demonstrating high-energy laser weapon systems in the maritime environment, but there is still much to be done. Additional advances will be required to scale power levels to the hundreds of kilowatts that will make high[-]energy lasers systems robust, reliable, and affordable. Higher power levels are important for the ability to engage more challenging threats and improve the rate and range at which targets can be engaged.
In addition to achieving higher beam powers, remaining development challenges for high-energy SSLs include, among other things, making the system rugged enough for extended shipboard use, making the beam director (the telescope-like part of the laser that sends the beam toward the target) suitable for use in a marine environment (where moisture and salt in the air can be harsh on equipment), and integrating the system into the ship’s electrical power system and combat system.
The size of the total laser weapon system is also an issue. “Of all the platforms for laser energy weapons, people tend to think that ships are the least constraining because the ships are very large,” Lockheed Martin’s Iain McKinnie, directed energy business development lead says. “That is true, but the space on the deck of a ship is really at a premium, and so while it might be more forgiving than an aircraft or a small ground vehicle, it is by no means unconstrained. If laser weapons are going to earn their place on the deck, they can’t take up too much space and can’t be too heavy.”
Challenges for defending against cruise and Ballistic Missiles
The Pentagon is pushing to double the power output of lasers, to over 300 kilowatts, so they can defeat a threat found in arsenals from the Russian army to the Chinese navy to Iran’s cruise missiles. “The current technology for laser sources is in that 100-150 kw class,” said Frank Peterkin, a senior scientist at the Office of Naval Research. “It’s not enough. Even if you take all the other elements of a laser weapon and have them be perfect” – the targeting, the cooling, the beam control—“we still don’t have enough power. It’s a common enough problem, it
makes sense to [approach] it in a joint fashion,” Peterkin continued. “OSD’s Dr. Karr…. is leading a joint DoD-wide initiative to scale up power levels, because we all need more power.”…
“If you have directed energy, it’s ‘shoot until you think you’ve killed the thing you are shooting at and then move onto the next target,’ ” said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “And that gets back to ‘what’s the requirement for the power.’ “If you have a salvo coming in, it will hit some number of them, but a lot depends of their geometry, how good a shot you get at them, how the threats are spaced, how far away they are,” Clark said. “The laser can get maybe two, three, five or six of them, then they are on you. So you have to have some kinetic weapons, as well, to fill the gap.” Because even with a 1-megawatt laser, you still have [a] finite amount of time you have to engage every target. And your one laser can only do one thing at a time.” That means that even with lasers on ships, missiles for shooting down missiles will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.
“We need to understand those targets better,” Peterkin continued, “because the advantage of a laser weapon is precision, and the disadvantage of a laser weapon is precision.” While a hit-to-kill missile like the modern Patriot will just crash into the target and smash it, a
laser beam focuses precisely on a specific spot on the target and burns through. If you pick the wrong spot, you might not damage anything vital. If the spot you picked is tougher than your intelligence reports or your computer models said it was, you might not do enough
damage in time. That’s a particularly acute problem with supersonic cruise missiles, whose nose cones are already reinforced to survive the heat of friction from their rapid progress through the air.
That makes these kinds of cruise missiles largely immune to a laser shooting them from dead ahead. It’s much more effective for the laser to shoot the incoming cruise missile from the side, which in turn means the laser shouldn’t be positioned right on top of the target, but nearby – for example on an escorting warship.
When awarding the contracts, the highest priority will be placed on technologically mature solutions that minimize technical risk and enable an aggressive schedule for fielding capability to the fleet, the Navy indicated. Additionally, the Navy wants modularity to allow for capability upgrades as technology continues to mature. Companies have to specify operational information, such as system and weapon effects and expected damage mechanisms; type of disruption and disable results; possible engagement scenarios; engagement timelines, including duty cycles; theoretical acquisition and targeting ranges in day and night operations; and integration with external systems, sensors and weapons.
US Navy’s Laser Weapons Programs
That’s why the service envisions its Surface Navy Laser Weapon System evolving in three stages, Peterkin said:
– Increment 1 is the 60 kW HELIOS laser being installed on ships to destroy drones and cripple small attack craft;
– Increment 2 will ramp up the power enough to take side shots against cruise missiles, so a ship with it installed can use it to defend other ships nearby, but not itself; and
– Increment 3 will be still more powerful, able to burn through the nose-cone in a head-on shot, allowing a ship with it installed to defend itself.
The Navy is currently developing SSLs with improved capability for countering surface craft and
UAVs, and eventually a capability for countering ASCMs. Navy efforts to develop these morecapable lasers include
the Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort;
the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN);
the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) Increment 1, also known as the high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance (HELIOS); and
the High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP).
Peterkin, speaking for the Navy, described three laser weapons all headed for testing aboard serving warships, and another on land, while there’s a fifth project happening jointly with the Air Force: Meanwhile, the Marine Corps – with a major assist from the Army – has developed CLAWS (Compact Laser Weapons System), a prototype drone-killing laser intended to go on 4×4 tactical vehicles like the JLTV. It’s already in field testing.
SSL-TM research program
The Navy announced in January 2018 that it intended to install LWSD on Portland. Industry teams led by BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon, among others, competed to develop an LWSD with a beam power of up to 150 kW. On October 22, 2015, DOD announced that it had selected Northrop Grumman as the winner of the SSL-TM competition.
Under the SSL-TM research program, which began in 2012, the ONR will be conducting an at-sea demonstration in the fiscal year 2019-20 time frame. The research is examining atmospheric propagation of high-energy lasers in a maritime environment; ruggedized high-energy, density-tolerant optical path components; and compact high-efficiency laser-generation technology.
The amphibious transport dock USS Portland (LPD 27) was fitted in the fall of 2019 with a new, 150-kilowatt weapon developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Northrop Grumman. The weapon, part of the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort, is significantly more powerful than the 33 kW Laser Weapon System (LaWS) installed in 2014 aboard the now-decommissioned afloat forward staging base ship Ponce.
On May 22, 2020, the Navy announced that Portland had used its LWSD to successfully disable a UAV in an at-sea test that was conducted on May 16, 2020.
ODIN (Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy) is the lowest-power version, intended primarily to blind enemy sensors. The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission states that Optical Dazzling Interceptor, Navy (ODIN) effort provides near-term, directed energy, shipboard Counter-Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C-ISR) capabilities to dazzle Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) and other platforms that address urgent operational needs of the Fleet. The ODIN is a government designed, developed, and produced system that will provide stand alone units for use on DDG 51 class ships. ODIN is the first operational deployment of a laser dazzler, a Navy official said, adding that the stand-alone system is equipped with a laser that can temporarily degrade intelligence gathering capabilities of unmanned aerial systems.
The U.S. Navy recently installed the first Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN), a laser weapon system that allows its ships to counter enemy unmanned aerial systems (UAS), Naval Sea Systems Command said. The first system was installed on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey during the ship’s recently completed dry-docking. One was installed on the destroyer USS Dewey earlier in 2020, but Peterkin said seven more ODINs will go on seven other ships over the next three years, testing how the same technology fits on different vessels.
Adversaries’ UAS production and employment has increased significantly, and ODIN was developed to counter these threats. “The Pacific Fleet commander identified this urgent counter-intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance need, and the chief of naval operations directed us to fill it as quickly as possible,” said Cmdr. David Wolfe, Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems Directed Energy office.
Bradley Martin, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp., said ODIN is not going to be used like laser weapons you would see in science fiction movies, but rather as something that would scramble a unmanned aerial vehicle’s optical sensor. UAVs right now aren’t a threat to attack a ship, so destroying them quickly isn’t necessary. “Typically, a UAV is not going to be used as a striking kind of weapon,” Martin said.
Instead, the laser would cause a drone to “lose its way” and eventually crash because it loses the ability to target and navigate. Any adversary using the drone to conduct surveillance of Navy activities would lose access to that asset.
SNLWS Increment 1 (HELIOS)
SNLWS Increment 1 is called HELIOS, an acronym meaning high energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance. The HELIOS effort is focused on rapid development and rapid fielding of a 60 kW-class high-energy laser (with growth potential to 150 kW) and dazzler in an integrated weapon system, for use in countering UAVs, small boats, and ISR sensors, and for combat identification and battle damage assessment. SNLWS development leverages the Laser Weapon System (LaWS)/Solid State Laser Quick Reaction Capability (SSL QRC) and Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSLTM)/Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) efforts. The weapon will also feed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data into the ship’s combat system and provide a counter-UAS (C-UAS) ISR dazzler capability. The dazzler uses a lower power setting to confuse or reduce ISR capabilities of a hostile UAS.
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) collaborated with NSWC Dahlgren, NSWC Port Hueneme, Integrated Warfare Systems 2.0, Directed Energy (IWS 2.0, DE), and Lockheed Martin to bring a high energy laser control system to the Navy fleet. The Navy is developing several ship-based weapons that could improve the Navy’s surface ships to defend against missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and surface craft. HELIOS (High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-Dazzler and Surveillance) is a new system in the Navy Laser Family of Systems (NLFoS) working to deploy capable directed energy solutions to the fleet.
The HELIOS team is focused on the rapid development and rapid fielding of a high-energy laser (with growth potential) and dazzler in an integrated weapon system to counter UAVs, small boats, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, and for combat identification and battle damage assessment
Many weapons already deployed on U.S. Navy warships, including the Phalanx close-in weapon system and the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), have a similar capability against small boats and drones as HELIOS while also being capable of taking on larger, faster aircraft and missiles. Range is also comparable. Where a laser weapon like HELIOS shines, literally, is its ability to fire a theoretically unlimited number of shots using the destroyer’s onboard electrical generation systems. Phalanx, on the other hand, is limited to 20 to 30 seconds of continuous firing, while RAM is limited to 21 missiles aboard the Mk. 49 Guided Missile Launching System.
Tyler Fitzsimmons, an engineer at NSWC Crane, works to evaluate the effectiveness of HELIOS’ low power energy capability. Fitzsimmons says HELIOS provides unique technical prowess. “A distinguishing factor for HELIOS is it can engage with both a high-energy laser and lower power laser in the same system,” says Fitzsimmons. “Laser weapons have a lot of capability that they deliver at the speed of light and can engage at impressive ranges. It’s important to be able to have the capability of both [high and low energy] because you don’t want situations to unnecessarily escalate.” Fitzsimmons says HELIOS can do this because of the way it uses varied technology.
The U.S. Navy has several High Energy Laser (HEL) programs. Fitzsimmons says the HEL programs span different capabilities and provide significant cost savings per engagement. “One thing that is easy for anyone to think about is what are the advantages of directed energy—the real capabilities, advantages over other kinetic weapons,” considers Lt. Gen. Henry A. (“Trey”) Obering, USAF (Ret.), executive vice president, Directed Energy, Booz Allen Hamilton. “The obvious thing is speed of light. Where do you need something from a speed of light perspective, and where do you need something that for the most part is invisible, with a low probably of intercept and very low probability of detection, that doesn’t make any noise?”
Following a full and open competition based on a request for proposals (RFP) released on June 18, 2017, the Navy on January 26, 2018, awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract for the development, manufacture, and delivery of two HELIOS systems—one for installation on a Navy Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class Aegis destroyer, the other for land-based testing—by FY2020.
A January 13, 2020, press report stated The Navy will put a laser weapon on a Littoral Combat Ship for the first time this year, amid efforts to boost the LCS’s lethality and to develop and field a family of laser systems. USS Little Rock (LCS-9) will receive a laser weapon during its upcoming deployment, Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Richard Brown told reporters. According to U.S. Naval Institute News, defense contractor General Dynamics will install a 150 kilowatt laser weapon system aboard the littoral combat ship USS Little Rock. The ship is based in Mayport, Florida and will likely join the Navy’s 4th Fleet, responsible for Central and South America.
Integrating the laser was apparently not difficult because the laser and the Little Rock are both made by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The weapon likely has enough power to fry, depending on local atmospheric conditions, drones and small aircraft. It could probably do enough damage to sink small boats, such as the heavily armed speedboats Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps uses, either by burning holes through the hull or detonating onboard fuel or ammunition. The laser’s performance would be heavily impacted by dust, smoke, water, or ice particles in the air, all of which degrade a laser beam’s power.
The US Navy plans to fire a 150-kw weapon off a test ship within a year, Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director, Surface Warfare Division said. “Then a year later, we’ll have that on a carrier or a destroyer or both.” “The Navy will be looking at ships’ servers to provide three times that much power,” says Donald Klick, director of business development, for DRS Power and Control Technologies. “To be putting out 150 kws, they (the laser systems) will be consuming 450 kws.” New Navy platforms such as the high-tech destroyer, the DDG 1000 or USS Zumwalt, is engineered with an electric drive propulsion system and extra on-board electrical power called an Integrated Power System. The integrated power system (IPS) powered by two massive Rolls Royce MT-30 gas turbines and two smaller Rolls-Royce RR450– allow the ships to route and generate 80 mega-watt power –almost as much as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The IPS could free up as much as 80 percent of the ship’s power dedicated to propulsion within a fraction of a second. It’s the first US ship to use electric propulsion and produces enough power to one day support the futuristic laser weapons.
General Atomics now plans to start testing another potentially revolutionary weapon, a 150-kilowatt class laser Tests possibly on AC-130 gunship. Bradley Heithold, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, in an interview with Breaking Defense. “The technology is ripe for application on an AC-130.” General Atomics hopes to see AFSOC install a version of the weapon on the AC-130 gunship in the next few years. They also envision equipping the company’s new jet-powered Predator C Avenger drone with a laser derived from their High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS).
“We’re doing a lot more with lasers,” Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director, Surface Warfare Division, said in Jan 2018 at the annual Surface Naval Association national symposium. The Navy plans to fire a 150-kw weapon off a test ship within a year, he said. “Then a year later, we’ll have that on a carrier or a destroyer or both.”…
“This system employs multi-spectral target detection and track capabilities as well as an advanced off-axis beam director with improved fiber laser technologies to provide extended target engagement ranges. Improvements of high power fiber lasers used to form the laser beam enable the increased power levels and extended range capabilities. Lessons learned, operating procedures, updated hardware and software derived from previous systems will be incorporated in this demonstration,” Dr. Tom Beutner, director of the Air Warfare and Weapons branch, Office of Naval Research, told Scout Warrior in a written statement at the time of the contract announcement.
The Navy’s two main programs include the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR’s) Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) and the High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS).
USS Portland Conducts Laser Weapon System Demonstrator Test
Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) successfully disabled an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0 on May 2020. LWSD is a high-energy laser weapon system demonstrator developed by the Office of Naval Research and installed on Portland for an at-sea demonstration. LWSD’s operational employment on a Pacific Fleet ship is the first system-level implementation of a high-energy class solid-state laser. The laser system was developed by Northrup Grumman, with full System and Ship Integration and Testing led by NSWC Dahlgren and Port Hueneme.
“By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs and small craft, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,” said Capt. Karrey Sanders, commanding officer of USS Portland.
As a follow-on effort to LaWS and MLD, the Navy initiated the SSL Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) program, in which industry teams led by BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon, among others, competed to develop a shipboard laser with a beam power of 100 kW to 150 kW, which would provide increased effectiveness against small boats and UAVs. “The Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator is a unique capability the Portland gets to test and operate for the Navy, while paving the way for future weapons systems, “ said Sanders. “With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy.”
The Navy Plans to Put HELIOS Laser Weapon on Destroyer by 2021
The higher-powered HELIOS (High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance) will add a drone-killing capability. It’ll be integrated on a destroyer next year. The base model outputs 60 kW but the plan is to scale up to 150.The most potent of the trio is LWSD (Laser Weapons System Demonstrator) that Portland fired in May, with an output of around 150 kW.
The High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) system, or HELIOS, is a defensive weapon system designed to burn boats and shoot down unmanned drones. The service placed an order for HELIOS in January 2019. The $150 million contract, awarded to Lockheed Martin, calls for the company to deliver two systems. According to a company press release, one will go to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for testing. USNI News says the Navy will install the other on a Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.
The Navy states that HELIOS is focused on accelerated fielding of laser weapon systems, specifically a 60 kW-class high-energy laser (with a growth potential to 150 kW) and dazzler in an integrated weapon system, for use in countering UAVs, small boats, and ISR sensors. HELIOS will provide increased self-defense and area defense, offer deep magazine capacity and significantly decrease the cost per engagement for low to midrange land, asymmetric surface and air threats.
HELIOS’s top-level requirements were established by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in February 2017. Among other things, the system is to employ open architecture (as opposed to a closed or proprietary architecture) and modularity where practical to permit the system to be upgraded more easily over time. HELIOS will provide increased self-defense and area defense, offer deep magazine capacity and significantly decrease the cost per engagement for low to midrange land, asymmetric surface and air threats.
The HELIOS system will be significantly more integrated with the ship than the LaWS was on the Ponce, McKinnie notes. It also will be a higher-performance system, and the addition of an optic dazzler will improve surveillance features. “LaWS, to be fair, did do surveillance as well,” but it did not include the dazzler and was only a demonstrating unit, McKinnie says.
The Navy’s effort envisages an eventual follow-on system, originally called SNLWS Increment 2, with a beam power of 150 kW to 300 kW and an ability to counter a ASCM that is flying as a crossing target, and an eventual Increment 3 version with a beam power of 500 kW or more and an ability to counter an ASCM that is flying directly at the ship.
In late January 2018, the US Navy dropped $150 million on a pair of new laser cannons under HELIOS ( ” High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with surveillance system”) program built by Lockheed Martin, is destined for testing on land. The other is going to sea aboard an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as early as 2020, potentially making it the world’s first large, war-ready “directed-energy” weapon.
Lockheed’s laser reportedly draws as much as 150 kilowatts of power per shot—enough to fry boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. Upgrading the laser to 300 kilowatts, thus boosting its range and power, could allow it to also destroy fast-moving, incoming missiles before they can strike their targets.
Missile Defence Lasers
(Boosting beam power further—to something between 150 kW and 300 kW—could permit a laser to counter at least some ASCMs. Even stronger beam powers—on the order of at several hundred kW, if not one megawatt [MW] or more—could improve a laser’s effectiveness against ASCMs and perhaps enable it to counter ASBMs.
With the progress on HELIOS, the Navy is getting closer to fielding a laser that could help it knock down Chinese and Russian anti-ship cruise missiles at very close ranges, said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“There is a viable path right now, with the DoD’s laser tech maturation program, to get to a 1-megawatt laser that can fit on a ship,” Clark said. “So once you get past 500 kilowatts, you start getting to a laser that can take down incoming cruise missiles — even supersonic ones.” There are ongoing studies to see just how far the Navy could take laser technology in defeating even hypersonic threats in the future, Clark said, but getting lasers on ships isn’t a matter of if, but rather when.
“The laser being able to shoot down cruise missiles: That will happen,” he said. “There’s not a particular technical challenge with that. It’s about developing a laser with the form factor that will fit on a ship and a ship with the power capacity to power it. That’s a doable proposition.”
The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission states that the HELCAP effort will expedite the development, experimentation, integration and demonstration of critical technologies to defeat crossing Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM) by addressing the remaining technical challenges, e.g.: atmospheric turbulence, automatic target identification and aim point selection, precision target tracking with low jitter in high clutter conditions, advanced beam control, and higher power HEL development. HELCAP will assess, develop, experiment, and demonstrate the various laser weapon system technologies and methods of implementation required to defeat ASCMs in a crossing engagement.