Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, CD, United States (4E) – The U.S. Navy has taken a key step in making laser weapons part of the main armament of its surface warships with a $150 million contract to Lockheed Martin for a “High Energy Laser with integrated Optical dazzler and Surveillance” system or HELIOS.
HELIOS will likely generate 150 kilowatts and is part of a Navy effort to accelerate the development of this weapon that can destroy enemy aircraft and missiles.
The contract will have Lockheed Martin develop and build two prototypes. One of the HELIOS lasers will be installed on the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), lead ship of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.
This guided missile destroyer-class is designed around the Aegis Combat System and the powerful AN/SPY-1 targeting radar. Some are equipped for ballistic missile defense.
Lockheed Martin delivered a prototype 60 kW laser to the U.S. Army in March 2017. This single beam laser is believed to be the most powerful of its kind in the world.
Lockheed says the design of the Army laser uses multiple laser subunits to produce multiple beams that are combined into a single powerful beam. This laser’s modular setup can be built-up into a more powerful version with the addition of more subunits.
“The inherent scalability of this beam combined laser system has allowed us to build the first 60kW-class fiber laser for the U.S. Army,” said Robert Afzal, Ph.D., Lockheed’s senior fellow for Laser and Sensor Systems.
“We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air.”
The Navy previously operated a combat-ready laser aboard the USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock that was decommissioned in 2017.
In 2014, the US Navy deployed a prototype 30 kW Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, aboard the USS Ponce for sea trials. The solid-state LaWS allows the Navy to effectively neutralize aerial drones, swarm boats and other threats by destroying or crippling them with an intense beam of laser heat that melts internal circuitry and machinery.
LaWS is presently not designed to engage incoming missiles, large aircraft, ships or submarines but this capability can be built-in at a later date. In operation, the weapon can be aimed accurately at targets by the ship’s Phalanx CIWS radar. LaWS has an effective range of one mile or 1.6 kilometers.
LaWS, which is a directed-energy weapon, is finding favor within the US armed forces because its “ammunition” is cheaper than conventional explosive rounds. It laser light beams can be fired for as little as one dollar per shot, while conventional rounds and missiles cost thousands of dollars each.
LaWS uses a solid-state infrared beam that can be tuned to high output to destroy a target, or low output to warn or cripple the sensors of a target. Its power output is estimated between 15kW to 50kW for engaging small aircraft and high-speed boats.
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