Incinerating enemy drones at the speed of light, intercepting incoming anti-ship missiles, or even burning holes through the hull of an enemy warship.
These are all operations the Navy envisions ship-integrated lasers performing in the very near future.
The service has been quite intense in its testing, developing, and fast-tracking ship-fired lasers to war, as they have been operational for many years now.
Years ago, the Navy pioneered and then deployed LAWs (Laser Weapons Systems), a ship-integrated weapon that fired from a U.S. Navy Transport Dock called the USS Ponce.
In more recent years, the Navy has been testing and developing a number of newer, far more powerful lasers. The service is now arming its fleet of warships with a cutting-edge laser system called HELIOS, for High Energy Laser with Optical-Dazzler and Surveillance.
HELIOS can be set to attack, incinerate, or destroy targets. It can also be scaled to merely damage or disable an enemy platform such as a drone or helicopter. The weapon has both offensive and defensive maritime combat applications, though it also introduces a significant optical component, meaning it can function as a sensor to illuminate, light up, or track targets for surveillance missions.
Ship-fired lasers can introduce an entirely new, and highly impactful, tactical advantage to U.S. Navy warship offensive and defensive operations.
Lasers could also enable surface warships to close in more fully upon enemy positions, given that deck-mounted guns could be supplemented by laser weapons attacking at the speed of light and engineered to pinpoint narrow target areas with precision-guidance technology.
Should an incoming enemy anti-ship missile be traveling over heavily trafficked ocean areas, a kinetic “explosion” dispersing fragments would likely cause civilian casualties. A laser weapon, however, can simply incinerate the target with much less fragmentation and explosive “energetics.”
Not only are lasers quiet, low-cost, scalable, and precise but perhaps of even greater significance, they fire at the speed of light. Pure speed, when it comes to ocean warfare, is increasingly vital as new technologies enter the sphere of Naval warfare, significantly changing the tactical equation.
This is particularly relevant in light of the Navy’s much-discussed Distributed Maritime Operations, which calls for a more dispersed yet networked fleet able to leverage a new generation of long-range sensors and weapons.
Refining, testing, and improving maritime laser technology has been a long-standing Navy developmental effort, which has sought to balance the requisite heat, cooling, and expeditionary electrical power requirements needed to support laser weapons operations.
Lockheed information on the weapon cites that HELIOS is built with “Thermal & Environmental Management Subsystems, Refrigerant Cooling, Ship’s Chilled Water & Clean Dry Air Distribution” as well as a “Spectral Beam Combined Fiber Laser.”
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He alshas a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University