MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy ships will get powerful lasers to zap incoming missiles

(Graphic by Lockheed)

During the course of covering the five entries for the Navy's FFG(X) program, much has been made of the light armament of the littoral combat ships. They are limited to what are essentially point-defense systems, specifically, the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. This missile has a range of about five nautical miles, and usually comes in launchers holding 11 or 21 missiles.


Now, the RIM-116 is joined by the Mk 15 Phalanx as the major point-defense systems on U.S. Navy ships. But there are some drawbacks that one has to keep in mind with these systems: they both have a finite supply of ammo (albeit the Phalanx's ammo issues are not as bad as the RIM-116's), and their limited range means that the ships may take some damage when the missile is stopped by those systems (albeit not as much as it would take from a direct hit).

The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile has a range of five nautical miles, but the launcher can only hold so many rounds.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr.)

One of the ways that those drawbacks will be addressed is from a system called HELIOS. According to materials obtained from Lockheed at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland, this sea-based directed-energy weapon could either replace both of these systems or help supplement them.

Lasers would bring the best of both the RIM-116 and Phalanx systems for just about any warship. They would offer the extended range of a system like the RIM-116 (possibly a little more), and they would have almost no limits on the ammo (just keep the juice flowing!). This is a good thing for something like the littoral combat ship.

The Mk15 Phalanx carries more ammo than the launchers for the RIM-116, but has a much shorter range.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Weinert)

Lasers have been used to guide bombs in the past, and the United States tested an airborne laser on a 747 for a number of years before the plane was dismantled. Still, it may be that when it comes to beating missiles headed for ships, BRRRZAP could replace BRRRRRT or a missile launch in the near future.