US Navy and Missile Defense Agency Megawatt Lasers by 2023-2024

In 2018, the US Navy and Missile Defense Agency had targeted demonstrating megawatt lasers by 2023-2024. The US Army recently had an announcement of a contract for 250-300 kilowatt lasers on a large truck by 2024.

This means that four container-sized laser power systems could be combined on a Navy ship or at a Missile Defense base for a megawatt laser.

A large US Army truck is the same size as a shipping container. A mobile 250-kilowatt laser has all of the power, fuel and electronics for module that could be used for a megawatt laser. It is trivial for four smaller lasers can combine their beams.

There is a recent update to a congressional report on military lasers.

An 300-600 kilowatt laser would be able to shoot for a marginal cost of less than one
dollar per shot (which is the cost of the fuel needed to generate the electricity
used in the shot) and would replace $85,000 or more expensive anti-missile missiles.

Three new ship-based weapons being developed by the Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP), also known as the hypervelocity projectile (HVP)—could substantially improve the ability of Navy surface ships to defend themselves against surface craft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and eventually antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs).

The Navy has been developing SSLs for several years, and in 2014 installed on a Navy ship a
prototype SSL called the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) that was capable of countering surface
craft and UAVs. The Navy is now developing SSLs with improved capability for countering
surface craft and UAVs, and eventually a capability for countering ASCMs. Navy efforts to
develop these more capable lasers include
* the Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort;
* the Ruggedized High Energy Laser (RHEL);
* the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN);
* the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) Increment 1, also known as the high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance (HELIOS);
* the High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP).

The Navy refers to the first four efforts above collectively as the Navy Laser Family of Systems (NFLoS). Under the Navy’s laser development approach, NFLOS and HELCAP, along with
technologies developed by other parts of DOD, are to support the development of future, more
capable shipboard lasers.

26 thoughts on “US Navy and Missile Defense Agency Megawatt Lasers by 2023-2024”

  1. You could probably do a sneaky cut that passes unnoticed over 10s of seconds, but you are trying to do this in a single shot at a moving tank from a moving drone. It’ll need to be hundreds of kW deposited over a second or less. You can’t dump hundreds of kW in a small area (1 sq. cm or less) without it producing a big shockwave.

  2. It could go either way depending on how close attention they paying.  Big difference between the options you have listed: laser and plasma torch produce no explosion and no vibration.  Sure there is going to be some sparks and hissing noise of melting metal but how likely are you to notice that from inside the tank?

  3. Unnoticed? No. Punching a hole through several cm of hardened steel is depositing a huge amount of energy in a small amount of time.

    That produces noise and radiation and is very noticeable.

    Kinetic impact, laser, plasma torch, high explosive, a big mechanical drill… doesn’t matter. That’s going to be noticed.

  4. Mirror armor won’t work. I read a few years ago that’s its worse than a regular surface because any dirt on a mirror surface will absorb energy and deform the surrounding surface which then absorbs energy faster too. So it’s a wasted effort.

  5. 300 kW is the minimum to shoot down cruise missile at an oblique angle and 600 kW if it is heading right at the beam.

  6. A drone with such laser could fly over a tank battalion and burn holes into the main gun barrels unnoticed for them to find out in the heat of battle:)  Or could just burn into their gas tank or engine block or ammunition storage.

  7. A more near-term application would be strapping lasers and HARMs to something like a B1B or a resurrected Valkeryie (which I’ve long speculated has lived at Groom Lake) to create a big “Wild Weasel”. It would create quite a dilemma for AA assets because they wouldn’t know if they were shooting at a bomber or a platform specifically meant to draw out and target AA assets.

  8. Another advantage to multiple lasers targeting the same projectile is that you increase the odds of one of the beams finding a “soft spot”

  9. …and hypersonics exist on the bleeding edge of what is feasible. I dated an aerospace engineer who worked for Lockheed Martin and she told me the most frustrating thing was aerodynamics at hypersonic speeds. A shape that works well at Mach 10 doesn’t work well at Mach 9 or Mach 10.5. Stability is a huge issue. Apply a massive amount of heat to just one part of the missile and you’ll likely induce a tumble which will tear the missile to shreds.

  10. A ballistic missile warhead can be practically a solid cone of uranium.
    Very difficult to destroy with a laser.

  11. You’re basically just increasing the surface area. Missiles have small cross sections so at megawatt power levels you could just widen the beam to overcome that. Then of course you have to contemplate damage to an optical seeker… which is just flat-out not going to survive on account of the fact that in order to function it has to allow light in.

  12. Oh, but you sure can by hardening, especially with military hardware. All you need is the proper design of a Faraday enclosure and ruggedized electronics. Aside from that, an EMP missile would be defeated before it got to a suitable attack position, probably during boost phase.

  13. The problems with what you say, is that air-borne and space-borne laser platforms would have an instant response, not to mention vastly superior range, and even a lower cost per shot than any missile. A missile would not stand a chance.

  14. Such lasers would revolutionize all warfare. Artillery and tactical missiles will be diminished in their effect on the US military. Airborne lasers do indeed have the likelihood of defeating both ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles. Should the US launch such lasers into space, using Falcon Heavy or Starship, you would have true look-down shoot-down capability over the entire planet. This would be de facto air superiority everywhere. This is just the beginning of the potential powers soon available. It might also make land strikes possible from space. Perhaps bombing and artillery would be deprecated?

  15. Ah, the good old days. Laser weapons are so eighties. Another thing that is eighties, which was actually made to work by several parties, was non-nuclear EMP warhead, ranging from a small missile and upwards in scale. So all this shiny laser weaponry is by definition defeatable by one cluster warhead with a few things from the eighties, and a few things that make shrapnel, which is commonly used in anti-soft air attacks. Now, the big winner is actually the four-way pilon with light smart bombs on it: one aircraft, just notionally, can take a dozen of bombs, with a few pilons left for AA missiles or fuel tanks. On the realistic side, one big missile currently carrying a 500kg-class warhead, can still carry about 200kg warhead, with the rest allocated to EMP-based countermeasures. Not a pretty picture for the brave men in tin cans. In the end, economics win wars, technology loses them. The party that had the best tanks, missiles, jets, battleships and submarines lost the last big war to economics.

  16. There have been proposals to use jacketing pulse lasers to burn a path through and/or use the explosive steam to create a vacuum tunnel of sorts for the main laser to run through.

  17. The tables in this article, from a presentation which we presume was made by pro-laser groups, still list requirements for 3-600 kW for cruise missiles, “higher 100s of kW” for artillery shells, and MW for ballistic missiles.

    So even the people preparing reports in favour of lasers don’t think that 250 kW can do everything.

    Think of rifles. A perfect shot from a .22 rimfire rifle can drop a human, or even a wild pig. But militaries prefer rifles with 10 times the muzzle energy. And pig hunters prefer rifles with 20 times. Because the last thing you want is to need a perfect shot against an enemy who is trying to kill you.

    You want a weapon that will still work with a bad shot, at a bad angle, through some cloud/bushes/armour, when you’ve only got a fraction of a second.

  18. There was a military test 4 years ago where ATHENA 30 kw laser burned a hole in a pickup truck skin and engine block in seconds from a mile away actually shutting down/killing the engine… Assuming it had to burn through roughly 2cm of steal to do that we can estimate that a 300 kW laser will burn through 20 cm of steal in seconds from over a mile away… This may not be the most effective way to kill a tank through the front plate but would work from the air into the skinny areas. As long as the beam penetrates into diesel tank or ammunition depo that tank will explode from within. . And this will work great against any other military vehicle including APCs…

  19. You can spend less time killing big things, like hypersonic missiles inbound, when seconds really do matter.

  20. But why a 1 MW laser on a ship if 250 KW is more than enough to kill anything that approaches it? Is this another 3rd grade multiplication exercise from a mind that can only exist in a production line terms?

  21. Yeah, mirror like surfaces still absorb the energy the laser is emitting. Only going to hold out for such a small amount of time it is doesn’t even matter, it would be a burden because you are more visible and is wouldn’t counter the laser.

  22. At megawatt power levels, only for a few thousandths of a second before the beam burns through. Then, your “mirror-like” surface has to stay clean (hard to do in a) the field, and b) in flight (dust, insects, etc). Best option is to turn faster than the beam controller can compensate.

  23. “Which will start a series of new wars, because it would be possible to win the war and not to get nuked.”

    Fine line there between winning and getting nuked. Not like a ballistic missile is the only way to deliver a nuke.

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