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Lasers Belong at Sea

Smaller, more efficient, and more accurate, laser technology offers speed-of-light defense

 

 

The Navy has proven that laser weapons belong at sea.  The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) – a collaborative effort between the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and industry partners – completed an operational demonstration of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) last year aboard USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15), forward deployed in the Arabian Gulf.

Integrated into Ponce’s existing ship defense systems, LaWS can deliver a range of effects, from non-lethal optical “dazzling” to lethal destruction. In testing, the ship used LaWS to neutralize afloat and airborne targets.

LaWS can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options, from non-lethal measures such as optical “dazzling” and disabling, up to lethal destruction of small attack boats and UAVs.

During the tests, LaWS successfully engaged surface and air targets at sea, in the demanding environment of the Arabian Gulf, as part of an ONR-led Solid State Laser Quick Reaction Capability (SSL-QRC) funded program.

A laser offers scalable effects, from deter-and-dissuade to degrade or destroy. LaWS can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options, from non-lethal measures such as optical “dazzling” and disabling, up to lethal destruction of small attack boats and UAVs.

Ponce laser targeting

Chief Fire Controlman Brett Richmond, right, and Lt. j.g. Katie Woodard, operate the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) installed aboard the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) during an operational demonstration in the Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams

There are limitations for lasers on ships. The beam is affected by wind, water, and waves close to the water’s surface. On Ponce, the system is operated by sailors, who say the weapon has been reliable and maintainable, and has performed well in adverse environmental conditions, including high winds, heat, and humidity.

 

Centimeter-class precision

Lockheed Martin’s Robert Afzal, senior fellow and chief technologist at Lockheed Martin’s laser and sensor systems in Bothell, Washington, said, “Laser weapons achieve their effect very precisely at the speed of light, and for minimal cost per shot.”

“Today’s solid state lasers can take advantage of the telecommunications industry’s investment in fiber optic technologies. The spectral beam combined fiber lasers are capable of generating high powers with near perfect beam quality, which will give you the most effect at the longest range, so either a longer range or a shorter dwell time, to get the effect that you desire. They also use the minimum amount of electric power and therefore generate the least amount of heat,” Afzal said.

There are limitations for lasers on ships. The beam is affected by wind, water and waves close to the water’s surface.

Afzal said the demand for commercial fiber optic communications created the industrial base to develop the optical fiber semiconductor pump diodes needed for fiber laser systems, while driving down the cost at the same time.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...