Expert: Navy Directed Energy Maturing to Address Evolving Threats
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The technology of directed-energy (DE) weapons such as lasers is advancing such that it shows increasing promise of countering future threats, an industry expert said.
“The fact that we have technology maturing to the point where it can address a number of evolving threats that our warfighters are facing is creating a real demand signal to get these capabilities out of the laboratories and into the hands of the warfighter,” said David Stoudt, a senior executive adviser/engineering fellow for Directed Energy at Booz Allen Hamilton and a former Navy official at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, Virginia. “That, paired with a recognized desire for fieldable prototypes — rapid prototyping, rapid acquisition — certainly on the part of the Navy, means the time has come to get these capabilities out there and really show what they’re worth.”
Stoudt said, “the Navy’s been very methodical in the way they’ve approached this technology development area and that’s starting to bear fruit for the warfighters in the less-than-five-year time frame.”
The Navy deployed a 30-kilowatt SEQ-3 laser weapons system (LaWS) on USS Ponce in 2014, one that demonstrated the capability to take out small targets. This month, the Navy awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract to build two High-Energy Laser and Integrated Optical Dazzler Systems (HELIOS), a step forward in integrating laser weapons on its ships.
“I think it is a positive step, following on the fielding of a prototype of the LaWS system on the Ponce, increasing the power, looking at integrating it more to a surface combatant, exercising the industrial base to deliver capabilities for the Navy,” Stoudt said. “We went through the policy, legal [and] treaty reviews, so we started to overcome those barriers. This will be the next step in that process for the Department of the Navy as they continue down the road of developing direct energy capabilities both in the laser and microwave arena. There are other programs that are ongoing that will be following suit that are more exploratory, more S&T [science and technology] in nature from ONR [the Office of Naval Research].
Countering cruise missiles with a directed-energy weapons would require greater electrical power, Stoudt said, noting that things like target aspect angle matter.
“The Navy is taking steps now to determine exactly what is required to counter cruise missiles,” he said.
“One of the fundamental advantages of directed energy is the speed-of-light propagation, whether you’re talking about lasers or microwaves,” Stoudt noted. “Because it only takes slight movement on the part of either a beam director for a laser of a phase in an AESA [active electronically scanned array]-type format, even if the incoming threat is highly maneuverable, it can’t kinematically out-maneuver what the DE weapon can do.”He also said that the Navy is looking into the issue of ship’s electrical power margin more to provide the required energy for directed-energy weapons.