Navy Deploying New Shipboard Laser Weapon Systems in 2019, 2021
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Senior Editor
WASHINGTON — The Navy, having deployed a laser weapon system on board a ship in 2014, is proceeding with deploying newer, more capable laser weapon systems on ships, two this year and one in 2021.
“Are we really committed to it? We are ready to do that: put lasers aboard ship,” Rear Adm. Ronald A. Boxall, the Navy’s director of surface warfare, said March 20 at the 2019 Directed Energy Summit in Washington. “This is something we have to have on our ships.”
Later this year the Navy will conduct land-based testing of and then install a 150-kilowatt spectrally beam-combined fiber laser on board the San Antonio-class amphibious platform dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27). This weapon, the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation System, was developed by the Office of Naval Research, which also developed the 30-kilowatt SEQ-3 laser weapons system deployed in 2014 on board USS Ponce.
Also this year, the ODIN (Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy) laser weapon will be available for deployment on Navy surface ships. The ODIN is a counter-ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) weapon. These systems can be brought on board for use without permanent installation. Boxall said the Pacific Fleet commander will decide which ships will deploy with the ODIN systems.
Increment 1 of the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System will include a 60-kilowatt (and eventually greater) high-energy laser integrated with an optical dazzler, Boxall said. Also known as the HELIOS (High-Energy Laser Integrated Optical-Dazzler with Surveillance) system, being developed by Lockheed Martin, this laser will be the first laser integrated with the Aegis Combat System on an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer (DDGs). He said the laser will be installed on a Pacific Fleet Flight IIA DDG within 18 months. A second example will be used for land-based testing.
Integration with the Aegis Combat System is his top priority with the HELIOS, Boxall said, also noting that “the ability to track with a laser is very good,” and that the laser could serve as a fire-control system for other weapons.
Boxall said that the HELIOS systems will be installed on Flight IIA DDGS instead of the forthcoming Flight III DDGs for reasons of power availability. The SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense radar and other systems that will be installed in the Flight III will not leave enough power margin for the laser weapon, he said.
The HELIOS will be back-fit on the Flight IIA DDGs in place of the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, he said.
“We’re gong to be challenged without the [power] margin to do it,” Boxall said. “We’re going to have to move to a new hull, using largely the same systems that are growing more and more common with the rest of our fleet but with the margin, flexibility and adaptability to build that bigger and more powerful laser.”
That new hull may be the Large Surface Combatant, which is under concept development by the Navy for building in the 2023-2025 timeframe. Lasers also may be installed on other future ships, such as the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel.
The Next-Generation Guided-Missile Frigate ((FFG(X)) will be built beginning in 2020 with the power, weight capacity, and space for a laser weapon system, Boxall said.
The Navy is envisioning Increments 2 and 3 of the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System with the ability to defeat a crossing anti-ship cruise missile and a head-on anti-ship cruise missile, respectively.