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Maritime laser sets boat afire in test

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2011
Compiled by Photonics Spectra staff

ARLINGTON, Va. – A solid-state high-energy laser (HEL) successfully disabled a small target vessel from a surface ship, an achievement that could offer advanced self-defense to surface ships and personnel.

The Office of Naval Research and Northrop Grumman collaborated to complete at-sea testing of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) in April. 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 US Navy’s self-defense test ship, the former USS Paul Foster.

“This is the first time an 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 a little more than two and a half years, the MLD has gone from contract award to demonstrating a Navy ship defensive capability, he said.

The Navy has also 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 an HEL weapon will one day provide a warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

Although the MLD test in April proved the ability to use a scalable laser to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapons systems, said Rear Admiral 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,” Carr said. “This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships.”


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