Navy requests $ 300 million to develop defensive laser weapons on board ships

A 2012 image of a Navy laser weapon system. US Navy Image

The Navy has proposed to spend $ 299 million in fiscal 2019 on laser systems to protect ships from current and future threats, as part of a rapid prototyping, experimentation and demonstration initiative. .

For nearly a decade, the Navy viewed laser technology as a more cost-effective and efficient tool to protect ships against emerging threats such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and small patrol craft that could invade a ship. surface, according to a congressional research service. report, Navy Lasers, Railgun and High Velocity Projectile: Context and Issues for Congress.

The Navy wants to bring laser development closer to deployment, according to budget documents released by the Navy earlier this month.

In the next exercise, the Navy plans to purchase four ship-mounted Navy Surface Laser Weapons Systems (SNLWS), which include a high-energy laser with a built-in low-power laser dazzle. If successful, this system would provide ships with a new means of countering adversary unmanned aerial vehicles, rapid coastal attack craft, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.

The Navy also hopes to install two Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN) systems on Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers during the next exercise. This system is described by the budget documents as being a short-term counter-ISR capability on board ships.

Contacted by USNI News, officials at the Office of Naval Research declined to comment on the development of the Navy’s family of laser weapons.

Ultimately, the Navy’s goal is to improve the ability of ships to defend against anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), according to the CRS report. The Navy’s current ship defense systems have two key limitations: Current defensive systems cost much more than the relatively inexpensive threats they protect against, and ships can only carry a limited amount of ground-based missiles. air (SAM) and ammunition for reconciliation. weapons.

“In the defense budget for fiscal year 2018, the costs of purchasing Navy SAMs range from approximately $ 976,000 per missile to several million dollars per missile, depending on the type,” the report reads. CRS report.

With limited commitment, current systems can provide adequate protection, the report continues.

“But in the combat scenarios (or in an ongoing military capabilities competition) against a country like China which has many drones and anti-ship missiles and a capacity to build or acquire many more, a report d An unfavorable cost swap can become a very expensive – and potentially unaffordable – approach to the defense of Navy surface ships against drones and anti-ship missiles.

The transfer afloat base (acting) USS Ponce (ASB (I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Laser Weapons System (LaWS) sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) while deployed to the Persian Gulf on Nov. 17, 2014. US Navy photo.

In addition, the Navy has requested funds in the budget to develop other laser weapon technologies that it has already started to develop. The Navy plans to spend money to research the increased power of its laser technology that it plans to use aboard San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious warships. The service will test a semiconductor laser technology maturation system, a 150 kilowatt laser weapon demonstrator that will support future laser development for the LPD class of ships. The Navy is also exploring alternative 150 kilowatt laser sources using different laser architectures.

By comparison, in 2014 the Navy deployed its first laser system, a 30 kilowatt laser weapon system, aboard the USS Mackerel (AFSB (I) -15).

According to the Congressional Research Service report, increasing the beam power to between 150 kilowatts and 300 kilowatts is considered necessary by Navy researchers to counter “at least some anti-ship cruise missiles.”

“Even stronger beam powers – in the order of several hundred kilowatts, or even one megawatt [MW] or more – could improve the effectiveness of a laser against ASCMs and possibly allow it to counteract anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMS).

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