(NationalSecurity.news) The U.S. Navy is set to make a major advance in weaponry: The addition of laser weaponry powerful enough to bring down drones and planes, as well as destroy small craft and incoming missiles.
Service officials said in an interview with Scout Warrior and cited by The National Interest that Navy officials want to arm destroyers, cruisers and other vessels with low-cost, shipboard laser weapons in the near future, once the technology has been developed and proven. Such systems could even be deployed aboard aircraft carriers as well.
The Office of Naval Research is finalizing a 12-month, $53-million deal with defense contractor Northrop Grumman to build a Laser Weapon System Demonstrator in three phases, including an initial design phase, ground-testing phase and then testing weapons at sea aboard a Navy Self Defense test vessel, according to a statement issued by Northrop.
“The company will design, produce, integrate, and support the shipboard testing of a 150-kilowatt-class solid state (electric) laser weapon system,” the statement continued. “The contract would grow to a total value of $91 million over 34 months if ONR exercises all of its contract options.”
ONR officials told Scout Warrior that the goal of a developmental program is to build a prototype weapon for further study and evaluation. So laser weapons won’t be mounted aboard U.S. warships anytime soon. But if the developmental program is successful, that day may not be far off.
“This system employs multi-spectral target detection and track capabilities as well as an advanced off-axis beam director with improved fiber laser technologies to provide extended target engagement ranges. Improvements of high power fiber lasers used to form the laser beam enable the increased power levels and extended range capabilities. Lessons learned, operating procedures, updated hardware and software derived from previous systems will be incorporated in this demonstration,” Dr. Tom Beutner, director of the Air Warfare and Weapons branch, Office of Naval Research, told Scout Warrior in a written statement some months ago.
“The possibilities can become integrated prototypes — and the prototypes become reality when they become acquisition programs,” an ONR official added.
One Navy official told Scout Warrior it’s “way too early” to say whether the system being planned will ever become operational. The goal of the Northrop Grumman contract is to build a demonstrator so that senior Navy leadership can determine whether such a system is worth funding further as a “program of record.”
Northrop officials and Navy brass have often talked about the cost-effectiveness of utilizing laser weaponry to incinerate incoming threats, as opposed to utilizing interceptor missiles that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each to expend. Plus, fewer weapons aboard ship that contain gunpowder also make vessels inherently safer, especially if they are hit in battle. Also, the Navy would save the cost of having to resupply a ship’s weapons stocks at sea.
Another futuristic weapon that accomplishes similar objectives is the Navy’s railgun, though it, too, is still in development and has developmental problems of its own, though it is closer to becoming a reality than shipboard laser weapons.
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