Navy Invests In Powerful Laser Weapons System

Courtesy Northrop Grumman

Published Dec 25, 2015 4:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Navy has awarded a $53 million contract to Northrop Grumman for development and systems integration for a 150 kW laser weapon system, to be installed for evaluation on the Self Defense Test Ship (USS Paul D Foster).

Northrop has designed its system to be installed on the Navy's Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. If the Navy Office of Naval Research (ONR) exercises all of its options, the contract could grow to $93 million.

Last year, the Navy tested its smaller LaWS laser system aboard the Afloat Forward Staging Base USS Ponce and released video of the results. The laser destroyed small metal targets on two floating platforms and blew up a target drone.

LaWS, built by Kratos Defense, cost about $40 million in development. The Navy was satisfied enough with its tests to leave it deployed aboard the Ponce as an authorized, working defensive weapons system. It integrates with the vessel's existing Phalanx radar tracking system for guidance and is estimated to develop about 30 kW of power.

The Navy tested chemical laser systems in the 1980s, notably the megawatt-plus MIRACL deuterium fluoride laser, but abandoned them due to the hazards of carrying their fuel on board. The renewed interest in energy weapons reflects recent technological improvements in solid state lasers. LaWs employs a compact system of six solid state fiber lasers, which are much more efficient in converting electrical power into light than older crystal solid state lasers.

ONR's contract with Northrop Grumman also reflects a desire for cost efficiency – the weapon's price per round is negligible.

"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, energy weapons program manager for Northrop Grumman.

A similar system is also being developed by Lockheed as an option for the F-35 fighter.