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Navy develops laser weapon prototypes for destroyers & cruisers

The Navy plans to arm its destroyers and other ships with high-tech, low-cost ship-board laser weapons engineered to quickly incinerate enemy drones, small boats, aircraft, ships and missiles, service officials told Scout Warrior.


The Office of Naval Research is working on 12-month, $53-million deal with Northrop Grumman to develop a Laser Weapon System Demonstrator through three phases; the phases include an initial design phase, ground-testing phase and then weapons testing at sea aboard a Navy Self Defense test ship, a Northrop statement said.

"The company will design, produce, integrate, and support the shipboard testing of a 150-kilowatt-class solid state (electric) laser weapon system," the Northrop statement added. "The contract could grow to a total value of $91 million over 34 months if ONR exercises all of its contract options."

Northrop Grumman image

Office of Naval Research officials told Scout Warrior an aim of the developmental program is to engineer a prototype weapons for further analysis.

"This system employs multi-spectral target detection and track capabilities as well as an advanced off-axis beam director with improved fiber laser technologies to provide extended target engagement ranges. Improvements of high power fiber lasers used to form the laser beam enable the increased power levels and extended range capabilities. Lessons learned, operating procedures, updated hardware and software derived from previous systems will be incorporated in this demonstration," Dr. Tom Beutner, director of the Air Warfare and Weapons branch, Office of Naval Research, told Scout Warrior in a written statement a few months ago.

"The possibilities can become integrated prototypes -- and the prototypes become reality when they become acquisition programs," an ONR official said.

It is not yet clear when this weapon might be operational but the intention seems to be to arm surface ships such as destroyers, cruisers and possibly even carriers or an LCS with inexpensive offensive or defensive laser weapons technology.

"It is way too early to determine if this system will ever become operational. Northrop Grumman has been funded to set-up a demo to "demonstrate" the capabilities to senior leadership, who will then determine whether it is an asset worth further funding and turning into a program of record," a Navy official told Scout Warrior.

The Afloat Forward Staging Base USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the  Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf.| U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams

Both Navy and Northrop Grumman officials often talk about the cost advantages of firing laser weapons to incinerate incoming enemy attacks or destroy enemy targets without having to expend an interceptor missile worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Navy officials describe this as getting ahead of the cost curve.

"For about the price of a gallon of diesel fuel per shot, we're offering the Navy a high-precision defensive approach that will protect not only its sailors, but also its wallet," said Guy Renard, director and program manager, directed energy, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

Meanwhile, the Navy has already deployed one laser system, called the Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, which has been operational for months.