U.S. Navy to Deploy Shipboard Laser Weapon in 2014

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April 9, 2013

The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, California. Photo: U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy on Monday said that recent technological breakthroughs have led to the development of a shipboard laser capable of shooting down an enemy drone or disabling vessels.

Navy leaders announced a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. April 8th at the Sea-Air-Space exposition plans to deploy for the first time a revolutionary, solid-state laser aboard the USS Ponce in fiscal year 2014, two years ahead of schedule.

“Our directed energy initiatives, and specifically the solid-state laser, are among our highest priority science and technology programs. The solid-state laser program is central to our commitment to quickly deliver advanced capabilities to forward-deployed forces,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder said. “This capability provides a tremendously affordable answer to the costly problem of defending against asymmetric threats, and that kind of innovative approach is crucial in a fiscally constrained environment.”

The Navy says the at-sea demonstration in FY 14 will be part of a wider portfolio of near-term directed energy programs that promise rapid fielding, demonstration and prototyping efforts for shipboard, airborne and ground systems.

“Our conservative data tells us a shot of directed energy costs under $1,” Klunder said. “Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability.”

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Naval Sea Systems Command recently performed demonstrations of high-energy lasers aboard a moving surface combatant ship, as well as against unmanned aerial vehicles. Through the testing, researchers have been able to increase the ruggedness, power and beam quality of lasers which has more than doubled the range of the weapons.

“The future is here,” said Peter A. Morrision, program officer for ONR’s Sold-State Laser Technology Maturation Program. “The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords.”

U.S. Navy officials consider the solid-state laser a revolutionary technology that gives the Navy an extremely affordable, multi-mission weapon with a deep magazine and unmatched precision, targeting and control functions. Because lasers run on electricity, they can be fired as long as there is power and provide a measure of safety as they don’t require carrying propellants and explosives aboard ships.

The advancing technology will give sailors the ability to control a laser weapon’s output and perform actions ranging from non-lethal disabling and deterrence, all the way up to destruction.

“We expect that in the future, a missile will not be able to simply outmaneuver a highly accurate, high-energy laser beam traveling at the speed of light,” Klunder said.

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