The USNavy plans to fire a 150-kw weapon off a test ship within a year, he said. “Then a year later, we’ll have that on a carrier or a destroyer or both.”
That’s quite a jump from the kw AN/SEQ-3(XN-1) Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which deployed in 2014 on the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce.
And the kind of power needed to power such a weapon won’t come with a simple flip of a switch.
“The Navy will be looking at ships’ servers to provide three times that much power,” says Donald Klick, director of business development, for DRS Power and Control Technologies. “To be putting out 150 kws, they (the laser systems) will be consuming 450 kws.”
That is more than most currently operational ships are designed to accommodate, at least when they are conducting other tasks
Few power systems onboard ships can support sustained usage of a high-powered laser without additional energy storage,” noted a recent Naval Postgraduate School paper titled “Power Systems and Energy Storage Modeling for Directed Energy Weapons”.
The paper said, “The new DDG-1000 may have enough electrical energy, but other platforms … may require some type of ‘energy magazine.’ This magazine stores energy for on-demand usage by the laser. It can be made up of batteries, capacitors, or flywheels, and would recharge between laser pulses. The energy magazine should allow for sustained usage against a swarm of targets in an engagement lasting up to twenty minutes.
The Navy has contracted the development of a Li-Ion battery subsystem designed and provided by Lithiumstart housed in three distributed steel, welded cabinets that are 48” x 66” x 100” – although they are modular, Klick says, and can be arranged for a tailored fit. Each cabinet contains 18 drawers with 480 Li-Ion phosphate cells in each drawer.
The redundant power modules can provide 465 k each for a total of 930 kw. It can hold that full-power mark for about three minutes.
Improvements of high power fiber lasers used to form the laser beam enable the increased 150 kilowatt power levels and extended range capabilities.
Boosting beam power further—to something like 200 kW or 300 kW—could permit a laser to counter at least some ASCMs. Even stronger beam powers—on the order of at least several hundred kW, if not one megawatt (MW) or more—could improve a laser’s effectiveness against ASCMs (Anti-Ship Cruise Missile) and enable it to counter ASBMs (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile.
By 2020, it should be possible to demonstrate a 250-500 kW laser weapon system, one appropriate for deployment on current surface combatants and capable of being a game changer in the Navy’s struggle to address the growing A2/AD challenge.
Shooting down a missile requires more than the laser itself, it involves steering mirrors, adaptive optics and software that can track a target.
Both Lockheed and Boeing – which has built a high-power laser for the Army Stryker vehicles – showed off small drones with holes burned through them by low-power lasers. To destroy a missile screaming toward outer space, a much more powerful, “couple hundred kilowatts” laser is needed
The Navy would want to deploy tactical and point defense lasers on ships in 2020-2025 and then move up to megawatt lasers on aircraft carriers for area defense.
The Navy laser development industry teams are led by BAE Systems Plc (BAESY), Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) and Raytheon Co. (RTN), to field a more powerful weapon, possibly by 2021.
The approximate laser power levels needed to affect certain targets:
• Lasers with a power level of about 10 kW might be able to counter some UAVs at short range, particularly “soft” UAVs (i.e., those with design features that make them particularly susceptible to laser damage).
• Lasers with power levels in the tens of kilowatts could have more capability for countering UAVs, and could counter at least some small boats as well.
• Lasers with a power level of about 100 kW would have a greater ability for countering UAVs and small boats, as well as some capability for countering rockets, artillery, and mortars.
• Lasers with power levels in the hundreds of kilowatts could have greater ability for countering targets mentioned above, and could also counter manned aircraft and some missiles.
• Lasers with power levels in the megawatts could have greater ability for countering targets mentioned above—including supersonic ASCMs and ballistic missiles—at ranges of up to about 10 nautical miles.
The Navy and DOD are developing three principal types of lasers for potential use on Navy surface ships:
• fiber solid state lasers (SSLs),
• slab SSLs, and
• free electron lasers (FELs).
All three types are electrically powered
Fiber Solid State Lasers (Fiber SSLs)
Fiber solid state lasers (SSLs) are widely used in industry—tens of thousands are used by auto and truck manufacturing firms for cutting and welding metal. Consequently, they are considered to be a very robust technology.
Laser Weapon System (LaWS)
One fiber SSL prototype demonstrator developed by the Navy, called the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), had a beam power of 33 kW. The Navy at one point envisioned LaWS being used for operations such as disabling or reversibly jamming EO sensors, countering UAVs and EO guided missiles, and augmenting radar tracking. The Navy envisioned installing LaWS on a ship either on its own mount or as an add-on to an existing Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) mount. The Navy funded work to integrate LaWS with CIWS, to support the latter option
Tactical Laser System
Another Navy fiber SSL effort is the Tactical Laser System (TLS)—a laser with a beam power of 10 kW that is designed to be added to the Mk 38 25 mm machine guns installed on the decks of many Navy surface ships.25 TLS would augment the Mk 38 machine gun in countering targets such as small boats; it could also assist in providing precise tracking of targets. The Navy in March 2011 awarded a $2.8 million contract to BAE to develop a prototype of the TLS over a 15-month period. Boeing is collaborating with BAE on the project. The TLS effort was initiated following a January 2008 incident involving Iranian small boats.