Maritime laser demonstrator: Test moves Navy step closer to lasers for ship self-defense

Maritime laser demonstrator
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). Credit: US Navy photograph

Marking a milestone for the Navy, the Office of Naval Research and its industry partner on April 6 successfully tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) from a surface ship, which disabled a small target vessel.

The Navy and Northrop Grumman completed at-sea testing of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), which validated the potential to provide advanced self-defense for surface ships and personnel by keeping small boat threats at a safe distance.

"The success of this high-energy laser test is a credit to the collaboration, cooperation and teaming of naval labs at Dahlgren, China Lake, Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, Calif.," said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin Carr. "ONR coordinated each of their unique capabilities into one cohesive effort."

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, former USS Paul Foster (DD 964).

Carr also recognized the Office of the Secretary of Defense's High Energy Joint Technology Office and the Army's Joint High Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program for their work. MLD leverages the Army's JHPSSL effort.

"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 ONR'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.

"We are learning a ton from this program-how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons," Morrison said. "All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome."

Additionally, the Navy accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating 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 warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

But while April's MLD test proves the ability to use a scalable to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapon systems, Carr added.

"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. There is still much work to do to make sure it's done safely and efficiently," the admiral said.

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User comments

Apr 08, 2011
Would it be too much to ask the author to always check whether there is a video available ? And if it is, would it be too much, to overcome the natural human laziness and put it here, for us to see ?


Edit: Thanks dilbert for proving my point. That we're interested in the videos; if available. ;)

Apr 08, 2011
I can't seem to tell from the video or article, how long does the weapon need to shoot at a target for the results we see in the video to happen?

If it's longer than a moment or two, what is the advantage this solution has over a kinetic weapon (gun)? aside from the way cool factor?

Apr 08, 2011
Wouldnt you just laser the persons aboard and let them deal with excrutiating pain?

Apr 08, 2011
What if you painted the engines white?

Or simply put a piece of sheetmetal on top.

Apr 09, 2011
....but what if I'm wearing my buckyball suit?

Apr 10, 2011
Wonder what the range and power of this beam was.

Apr 11, 2011
The value in using a laser over kinetic weapons is that a laser travels straight to a definite point. A bullet, as any sniper could tell you, will move based on wind. Also, a bullet takes significantly longer to get to its target than a laser so, like in the video, a target that is bobbing on the waves would be much more difficult to hit.

At this point, the laser is used for non-lethal deterance so we can save the expendable ammunition for things we want to kill

Apr 11, 2011
Yes a laser will move in a straight line, but i did notice from the video that the laser had to be on the target much much longer for an effect to take place than would have been needed with a kinetic weapon. Yes it might have taken a few shots to get the engine to start fire, but it would have been much cheaper, and probably quicker no?

The difficulty in hitting the target would be similar or even more difficult for the laser as it would have to hit the same spot on the target during the bobbing for an effect to take place, the gun would only need to be properly aligned once.

I see some great things we could do with a laser based weapons system, but i am not sure of why we would have it on a boat as opposed to satellites.

Then again if you want to take out a few satellites just launch a bag of gravel into space with a small explosive to spread out the gravel.

Apr 11, 2011
Hmm, asking the range of a laser would convince me of the value of anonymity too.

Lasers disperse over distance... therefore they absolutely do have an effective range... Though you did demonstrate the value of anonymity, just not in the way you intended.

Apr 11, 2011
There are more uncontrollable variables in firing a "slow" bullet, even one fired using a computer instead of a human. The video and results proved that the calculations necessary to hit a moving target with a laser are feasible. Also, the cost of a misaligned bullet could result in the instant death of someone we're not willing to kill.

The military currently uses a high-speed minigun to shoot incoming missiles out of the sky but, in contrast to the laser, it takes thousands of rounds of extremely expensive and specialized ammunition from the minigun to get a reasonable chance of shooting the missile out of the sky. Not that we've reached the point that we can shoot a missile out of the sky with a laser but this seems to bring us closer to that reality.

Apr 11, 2011
I can see the logic in that explanation, thank you NotAsleep.

Apr 17, 2011
The most amazing thing is that it's solid state, not chemical. Power can probably be scaled up as well as controlled. Chances are good that what you see in a video for public consumption may not be the whole story.

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