Test Moves Navy a Step Closer to Lasers for Ship Self-Defense

Marking a milestone for the Navy, the Office of Naval Research and its industry partner on April 6 successfully tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) from a surface ship, which disabled a small target vessel.

The Navy and Northrop Grumman completed at-sea testing of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), which validated the potential to provide advanced self-defense for surface ships and personnel by keeping small boat threats at a safe distance.

“The success of this high-energy laser test is a credit to the collaboration, cooperation and teaming of naval labs at Dahlgren, China Lake, Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, Calif.,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin Carr. “ONR coordinated each of their unique capabilities into one cohesive effort.”

The latest test occurred near San Nicholas Island, off the coast of Central California in the Pacific Ocean test range. The laser was mounted onto the deck of the Navy’s self-defense test ship, former USS Paul Foster (DD 964).

Carr also recognized the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s High Energy Joint Technology Office and the Army’s Joint High Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program for their work. MLD leverages the Army’s JHPSSL effort.

“This is the first time a HEL, at these power levels, has been put on a Navy ship, powered from that ship and used to defeat a target at-range in a maritime environment,” said Peter Morrison, program officer for ONR’s MLD.

In just slightly more than two-and-a-half years, the MLD has gone from contract award to demonstrating a Navy ship defensive capability, he said.

“We are learning a ton from this program—how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons,” Morrison said. “All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome.”

Additionally, the Navy accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating MLD with a ship’s radar and navigation system and firing an electric laser weapon from a moving platform at-sea in a humid environment. Other tests of solid state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions.

Having access to a HEL weapon will one day provide warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

But while April’s MLD test proves the ability to use a scalable laser to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapon systems, Carr added.

“From a science and technology point of view, the marriage of directed energy and kinetic energy weapon systems opens up a new level of deterrence into scalable options for the commander. This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships. There is still much work to do to make sure it’s done safely and efficiently,” the admiral said.

About the Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.

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11 thoughts on “Test Moves Navy a Step Closer to Lasers for Ship Self-Defense”

  1. This laser is interesting as is, but where it’s going is a point defense system that can intercept incoming missiles, protecting a ship from the biggest threat they face in the modern world. Ironically, developments like this could lead to a smaller, cheaper navy by allowing many of the ships used to act as escorts for other ships to be retired.

    It’s also nice to see serious developments in a defensive technology. A better way to keep people alive is just more positive then a better way to kill them.

  2. Judging from the precision needed to keep the beam on target, this weapon, when fully operational, could be used to selectively disable the critical parts of the boat without causing the crew much harm. Ideal for getting rid of peaceful protesters at low PR cost.

  3. No description of what damage was actually done to the target vessel? I know these lasers aren’t powerful enough to vaporize the whole thing.

  4. And as long as our military has a huge advantage over likely foes that are truly a threat to us, we won’t be at war unless WE think it is necessary.

    Because we all know China is friendly/cuddly and our best massive debt holding friends. They surely wouldn’t start a war in a heartbeat if they thought the outcome would be favorable to them, right?

    Oh wait, they wouldn’t even need to start a new war. The Korean War is still ongoing, just with a really long peacefire. If they didn’t want it that way, they would pull all support for North Korea, and the North Korean state would fall.

    • The North Korea issue is pretty much an internal one for China. They don’t want a perpetual state of war, but they DO want a buffer zone between US-allied (and fairly liberal democracy) South Korea and their southern border. China doesn’t want a liberal capitalist state for their poorer and most-oppressed citizens to have easy access to. It has nothing to do with threatening the US.

  5. While this is a wonderful scientific breakthrough, it is still just more bloat for our modern day military. We already have far superior fire power than every other country we have been at war with for the last 10 years.

    Then again, how can the pentagon resist shiny new lasers?

    By the way, check out this cool physics site, http://bluesolver.com/

    • Yes, because stopping military development will ensure we keep the edge./sarc
      If we stop development, then all it takes is one group to successfully develop better technology in secret, then suddenly our edge is gone. Technological superiority is a moving target, you can’t just lounge around content with what you have.
      Besides, these technologies have a tendency to filter down and provide civilian improvements.

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