Laser Weapon System
The intended use of the LaWS is ship-defense against drones or small-boat attackers (whether suicidal or not); the LaWS at present is not designed to engage incoming missiles, large aircraft, ships, or submerged objects. LaWS utilizes a solid-state infrared beam which can be tuned to high output to destroy the target or low output to warn or cripple the sensors of a target. Among the advantages of this device versus projectile weapons is the low cost per shot, as each firing of the weapon requires only the minimal cost of generating the energetic pulse; by contrast, ordnance for projectile weapons must be designed, handled, and transported, take up storage space, and require maintenance.
In 2010, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions was awarded an 11-million-dollar contract to develop LaWS in support of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) for the U.S. Navy’s Directed Energy and Electric Weapon Systems (DE&EWS) program. The May 2012 NSWC test used a CIWS control system to enable the beam director to track the UAV target.
The LaWS will be installed on the USS Ponce in summer 2014 for a 12-month trial deployment. The Navy spent about $40 million over the past six years on research, development, and testing of the laser weapon. It will be directed to targets by the Phalanx CIWS radar. If tests go well, the Navy could deploy a laser weapon operationally between 2017 and 2021 with an effective range of 1 mi (1.6 km; 0.87 nmi). The exact level of power the LaWS will use is unknown but estimated between 15-50 kW for engaging small aircraft and high-speed boats. Directed-energy weapons are being pursued for economic reasons, as they can be fired for as little as one dollar per shot, while conventional gun rounds and missiles can cost thousands of dollars each. The Navy has a history of testing energy weapons, including megawatt chemical lasers in the 1980s. Their chemicals were found to be too hazardous for shipboard use, so they turned to less powerful fiber solid-state lasers. Other types can include slab solid state and free electron lasers. The LaWS benefitted from commercial laser developments, with the system basically being six welding lasers "strapped together" that, although don't become a single beam, all converge on the target at the same time. It generates 33 kW in testing, with follow-on deployable weapons generating 60-100 kW mounted on a Littoral Combat Ship or Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to destroy fast-attack boats, drones, manned aircraft, and anti-ship cruise missiles out to a few miles. In the short term, the LaWS will act as a short-range, self-defense system against drones and boats, while more powerful lasers in the future should have enough power to destroy anti-ship missiles; Navy slab lasers have been tested at 105 kW with increases to 300 kW planned. Laser weapons like the LaWS are meant to complement other missile and gun-based defense systems rather than replace them. While lasers are significantly cheaper and have virtually unlimited magazines, their beams can be disrupted by atmospheric and weather conditions (especially when operating at the ocean's surface) and are restricted to line-of-sight firing to continuously keep the beam on target. More conventional systems will remain in place for larger and longer-range targets that require the use of kinetic defense.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is developing a laser weapon similar to the LaWS for use on ground vehicles for the U.S. Marine Corps as part of the Ground-Based Air Defense Directed Energy On-The-Move (G-BAD DE OTM) program. Like the naval LaWS, the ground-based system is meant to be an efficient way to protect against UAVs and supersonic missiles. The ONR is adapting the system to be installed on a Humvee or the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Tests will be conducted in late 2014 with 10 kW of power, with an increase to 30 kW by 2016. On 13 August 2014, Raytheon was awarded an $11 million contract to adapt a tactical laser weapon system to a vehicle-based laser device. Components have been tested to demonstrate detection and fire control functions of the system, with the compact phased array radar detecting and tracking air targets. The company will deliver a laser with a minimum power output of 25 kW using planar waveguide (PWG) technology, which is about the size and shape of a 12-inch ruler, that can generate sufficient power to effectively engage small aircraft while being small, light, and rugged enough to be used on mobile platforms. Intercept tests will evaluate detection and tracking to firing, battle-damage assessments, and effects on the test vehicle. Unlike the U.S. Army High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL-TD) program to develop a truck-mounted laser for C-RAM duties while stationary, the G-BAD seeks a short-range laser that can fire while moving and maneuvering with Marine air-ground task forces. The Navy requires a laser capable of firing at full power for two minutes, followed by a 20-minute recharge to 80 percent total capacity. It will weigh 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) consisting of a volume-surveillance radar, command and control (C2), and the high-energy laser weapon. Demonstrations will likely occur on an expanded-capacity Humvee, with the operational result being a 50 kW weapon mounted on a JLTV.
- Luis Martinez (9 Apr 2013). "Navy's New Laser Weapon Blasts Bad Guys From Air, Sea". ABC. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- Jonathan Skillings (8 Apr 2013). "U.S. Navy sees shipboard laser weapon coming soon". CNET. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- "US to deploy new laser weapon to Persian Gulf". Russia Today. 9 April 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- "Kratos Awarded $11 Million Contract to Support the Navy Directed Energy and Electric Weapon Systems and Total Ship Training System Program Offices". GlobeNewswire. 29 July 2010. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- "NEWS - LAWS". Retrieved 2013-04-12.
- Navy’s Laser Gun Nears Critical Test - Nationaldefensemagazine.com, 29 January 2014
- Laser Weapons: Lower Expectations, Higher Threats - Breakingdefense.com, 19 May 2014
- Lasers Could Become Cost Effective Missile Defense Weapons - Nationaldefensemagazine.org, August 2014
- US Navy developing laser weapons for ground vehicles - Gizmag.com, 14 June 2014
- US Navy to test powerful, mobile laser weapon against drones - Defense-Update.com, 13 August 2014
- Raytheon to build UAV-killing lasers for Marines - Militaryaerospace.com, 15 August 2014
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