Lasers Bring New Urgency to Electric Power Research
ARLINGTON, Va., April 26, 2013 — The upcoming deployment of a shipboard laser weapon has brought to the forefront the need for reliable, high-voltage power management systems for national security, officials said this week at the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Electric Ship Technologies Symposium outside Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, the Navy announced it will deploy a solid-state laser weapon system on the USS Ponce that is capable of shooting at swarming small boats or downing unmanned aircraft, marking the first time such a device has been installed on a deployed ship. (See: Navy to Put Craft-Zapping Laser on a Ship in 2014) The announcement underscored the need for accessible high-power electric generation, capable of meeting the demands that will be needed to power laser systems and other high-power weapon systems.
“The work being done in this area is vital,” said Dr. Thomas Killion, who heads ONR's Office of Transition. “As the upcoming deployment of a shipboard laser weapon reminds us, we need power generation and power management systems with greater-than-ever capabilities, but from devices that are smaller than ever.”
As the technology advances, and faced with rising and unpredictable fossil fuel costs, the Navy's next-generation surface combatant ship will leverage electric ship technologies in its design.
Although electric ships already exist, design characteristics of a combatant ship are more complex with regard to weight, speed, maneuverability — and now, directed energy weapons.
The focus has now shifted to technologies that include silicon carbide (SiC)-based transistors, transformers and power converters.
“SiC is important because it improves power quality and reduces size and weight of components by as much as 90 percent,” said Sharon Beermann-Curtin, ONR's power and energy science and technology lead. “This is a critical technology-enabler for future Navy combatant ships that require massive amounts of highly controlled electricity to power advanced sensors, propulsion and weapons such as lasers and the electromagnetic railgun.”
A lighter, smaller footprint on ships will contribute to the substantial increase in energy efficiency that is predicted from breakthroughs in electric power research, Killion said.
“The enhanced capabilities and potential cost savings of increased power at reduced size cannot be overemphasized,” he said. “This is the future.”
Improved power systems could have a significant impact in both military and civilian sectors.
ONR is currently working on critical technologies, including power-dense electronics, new power-conversion capabilities, energy storage, and sensors, weapons and protection. All of these areas deserve support because they are of naval and national importance, Killion said.
“A key challenge in designing an all-electric future naval combatant ship is enabling technologies that can provide power agility with minimal energy storage needs,” Beermann-Curtin said. “We are making truly noteworthy progress toward those goals.”
Pending fiscal year 2013 Small Business Innovation Research grant solicitation opportunities in the power and energy era also were announced.
For more information, visit: www.navy.mil
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