Home' Defence Technology Review : DTR FEB 2015 Contents 35
DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY REVIEW | ISSUE 06 | FEB 2015
Laser weapons light the
JUST FIVE YEARS ago the prospect of lasers playing a role on the
modern battlespace at the tactical level anytime soon would have
been considered fanciful, or at the very least a long way off. Not so
Directed energy laser weapon systems are already here
and poised to make serious strides toward achieving initial
operational capability in various configurations within the next
year or two.
Hard-kill laser weapons are right now being field tested aboard
surface ships and tactical vehicles, where progress continues to be
made and boxes ticked. Technical readiness levels are high and
gaining altitude, by all accounts.
It should come as no surprise that the United States leads the
way – by a long way – in the design, development, testing and
planned fielding of laser weapons. This has come, of course, on
the back of many years of development and testing, trial and error
and significant investment of resources. An overnight success
laser weapons are not.
A standout example came last year when the US Nav y’s (USN)
This video still shows a remotely-controlled target aircraft as it
is hit by the ONR LaWS during an exercise in the Pacific Ocean in
August 2012. Image: ONR
15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System or other targeting source,
LaWS can address multiple threats using a range of escalating
options, from non-lethal measures such as optical ‘dazzling’ and
disabling, to lethal destruction if necessary.
Developed for ONR by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions,
LaWS is designed for defence against UAVs and small boats
and is operated by a single sailor via a hand-held controller
not dissimilar to those found on game systems like Xbox and
LaWS integrates six solid-state infrared beams, tunable to either
low output for warning and sensor crippling, or high output for
According to ONR, data regarding accuracy, lethality and
other factors from the USS Ponce deployment will guide
the development of weapons under ONR’s Solid-State Laser-
Technology Maturation program. The program will see selected
industry teams develop cost-effective, combat-ready laser weapon
system prototypes that could be installed in numbers aboard
vessels such as guided missile destroyers and the USN’s Littoral
Combat Ship in the early 2020s.
When it wasn’t in target engagement mode, LaWS was utilised
as a surveillance system, employing low-power laser energy to
observe and track multiple air and sea targets.
The performance of LaWS has been so impressive that Chief of
Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder told media at a
Pentagon briefing in early December 2014 that the system was, in
“We’re not testing anymore. It’s operating. It’s working. As a
matter of fact, it’s working beyond even our expectations.”
“While we haven’t physically destroyed some other threat or
A Qassam-like rocket as it is engaged by the Lockheed Martin
ADAM laser weapon system during testing. Image: Lockheed Martin
LaWS (circled and inset at left ) installed on USS Ponce during the 2014 demonstrations. Inset at
right shows the gaming-inspired control console operated by a single sailor. Images: ONR
ABOVE: A concept rendering of the GBAD being
developed for the USMC and mounted on a HMMWV.
Office of Naval Research (ONR) completed testing of its 30
kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system (LaWS) in the Persian Gulf
aboard the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce.
Flagged as highly successful, the operational demonstrations
were conducted from September to November and achieved two
milestones: a laser weapon working aboard a deployed USN ship,
and the seamless operation and integration of LaWS with the
ship’s legacy self-defence systems.
During the tests, LaWS – a collaborative effort between ONR,
Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval
Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and industry partners
hit targets mounted aboard a speeding, oncoming small boat,
shot a ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) out of the sky
and destroyed other moving targets at sea.
ONR states that LaWS performed flawlessly, including
in adverse weather conditions of high winds, heat and
humidity. It also exceeded expectations for both reliability and
Directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from a Mk
DTR looks at the rapid technical
maturation and versatility of laser
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