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  • Navy to Put Craft-Zapping Laser on a Ship in 2014
Apr 2013
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., April 9, 2013 — The Navy will deploy an onboard solid-state laser capable of shooting at swarming small boats or downing unmanned aircraft, officials announced Monday. The move marks the first time such a device has been installed on a Navy ship at sea.

The announcement that the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) will be deployed aboard the USS Ponce, which patrols the Persian Gulf, was made by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert at the 2013 Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National Harbor.

The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid-state lasers, using combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory. LaWS can be directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from an MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System or other targeting source. The Office of Naval Research's Solid-State Laser (SSL) portfolio includes LaWS development and upgrades providing a quick reaction capability for the fleet with an affordable SSL weapon prototype. This capability provides Navy ships with a method for sailors to easily defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets. US Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released.

"Our directed energy initiatives, and, specifically, the solid-state laser, are among our highest priority science and technology programs. The solid-state laser program is central to our commitment to quickly deliver advanced capabilities to forward-deployed forces," said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research.

He called the laser "a tremendously affordable answer to the costly problem of defending against asymmetric threats," adding that such technology is "crucial in a fiscally constrained environment."

Lasers complement kinetic weapons to create a layered ship defense, providing improved protection against swarming small boats and unmanned aircraft at a fraction of the cost of traditional weapons. A shot of directed energy costs under $1, Klunder said. "Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability," he added.

The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego is a technology demonstrator built from commercial fiber solid-state lasers strung together and controlled and directed onto targets by an MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Part of the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort, LaWS is an affordable prototype for Navy ships to help sailors defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets. US Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released.

Because lasers run on electricity, they can be fired as long as there is power and provide a measure of safety, as they don't need to carry propellants or explosives aboard ships. The technology also gives sailors a variety of options they never had before, including the ability to control a laser weapon's output and perform actions ranging from nonlethal disabling and deterrence all the way up to destruction.

Drawbacks to lasers include the fact that the beam can be scattered by smoke, water vapor and dust, and that, as a line-of-sight weapon, it requires a visible target.

"The future is here," said Peter A. Morrison, program officer for the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program. "The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords."

"We expect that, in the future, a missile will not be able to simply outmaneuver a highly accurate, high-energy laser beam traveling at the speed of light," Klunder said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert announces plans for the 2014 deployment of a solid-state laser aboard the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) during the sea services luncheon Monday at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition. US Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released.

Significant progress on directed energy weapons has allowed the service to deploy an on-ship laser weapon two years ahead of schedule. ONR and Naval Sea Systems Command previously performed high-energy laser demonstrations against a moving combatant ship (See: Laser Used at Sea to Set Boat Afire) and remotely piloted aircraft (See: Raytheon Laser Shoots Down Drone). Such demonstrations, as well as investments made through other Department of Defense (DOD) agencies, officials say, allowed researchers to increase the ruggedness, power and beam quality of the lasers, more than doubling the weapons' range.

The at-sea demonstration in fiscal 2014 is part of a wider portfolio of near-term Navy directed energy programs. Following the USS Ponce demonstration, the Navy and DOD will continue to research ways to integrate affordable laser weapons into the fleet.

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