German Navy to Field Laser Weapon Demonstrator
Germany's navy joining the growing club of military forces developing shipboard laser weaponry. Germany's defense procurement agency, BAAINBw, has contracted with Rheinmetall to develop a laser demonstrator that could be deployed in a naval application.
The new 20 kW-class laser source is about a third less powerful than the U.S. Navy's LaWS laser demonstrator, which was mounted on the amphib USS Ponce in 2014 for testing in a close-in defense role against small threats, like drones and small boats. (The test was successful, though Ponce has since been decommissioned.)
In mid-2020, BAAINBw contracted with Rheinmetall to build a demonstrator of its own for a price in the low eight figures. The device is intended to be used in multiple projects for multiple military applications, but the first project for the laser demonstrator will be a yearlong trial phase onboard the Germany Navy frigate Sachsen.
Rheinmetall's system is based on spectral coupling technology, which the company has been developing for years. It consists of twelve nearly identical two kilowatt solid-state fiber laser modules with high beam quality. A beam combiner – a device that turns multiple beams into a single beam by means of dielectric grid technology – couples the twelve fiber laser beams to form a single beam.
Rheinmetall says that its spectral coupling technology has advantages when compared with the geometric coupling systems used by other contractors: it is less complex, very modular and passive, needing little control effort. The contractor believes it could be scaled up into the 100 kW performance class necessary for longer range, higher power roles - like antiaircraft / anti-missile point defense.
In 2015, during trials conducted in the Baltic, a Rheinmetall team engaged targets on land with a shipboard laser weapon system for the first time in Europe. In 2018, BAAINBw and Rheinmetall successfully tested a laboratory-based 20 kW laser source. The new trials, to be conducted in military environments, will take the project from laboratory to real-world installation in the span of three years.