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  • Laser Used at Sea to Set Boat Afire
Apr 2011
ARLINGTON, Va., April 13, 2011 — The Navy and Northrop Grumman have successfully tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) from a surface ship, using it to set a smaller target vessel on fire.

The Office of Naval Research said the April 6 test of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) validated the laser’s potential to provide advanced self-defense for ships and their crews by keeping small boat threats at a safe distance.

The Office of Naval Research successfully disables a small target vessel using a solid-state, high-energy laser mounted onto the deck of the Navy's self-defense test ship, former USS Paul Foster (DD 964). (Image: US Navy photograph)

The latest test occurred near San Nicholas Island, off the coast of central California in the Pacific Ocean test range. The laser was mounted onto the deck of the Navy's self-defense test ship, the former USS Paul Foster.

"This is the first time a HEL, at these power levels, has been put on a Navy ship, powered from that ship and used to defeat a target at range in a maritime environment," said Peter Morrison, program officer for the Office of Naval Research's MLD.

In just slightly more than two and a half years, the MLD has gone from contract award to demonstrating a Navy ship defensive capability, he said.

Additionally, the Navy accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating the MLD with a ship's radar and navigation system and firing an electric laser weapon from a moving platform at sea in a humid environment. Other tests of solid-state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions. Having access to a HEL weapon will one day provide a warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

But while April's MLD test proves the ability to use a scalable laser to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapon systems, said Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, chief of Naval research.

"From a science and technology point of view, the marriage of directed energy and kinetic energy weapon systems opens up a new level of deterrence into scalable options for the commander. This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships," said Carr.

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(See also: Broadband Light Slowed via Nanoplasmonics)  

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