Navy expects to conduct shipboard laser weapon trials in 12 to 18 months

The U.S. Navy has plans to test a new high-power laser being developed by Northrop Grumman for effectiveness against small ship targets. reports that the Navy has been looking for a weapon system to use against small craft like attack boats or even jet skis in crowded waters.

Northrop Grumman won a contract worth $98 million for the Maritime Laser Demonstration. The Navy expects a prototype laser system to be installed on a ship and ready for testing in the next 12 to 18 months. The Navy is reportedly looking for a laser system with a power output in the tens of kilowatts range. In March, Northrop Grumman was able to achieve a laser with a power output of 105 kilowatts in the lab.

Northrop Grumman's Dan Wildt said, "This is an opportunity to transition solid-state laser technology to the warfighter. We've been trying to make the transition for a long time, and we see the Navy being very serious about understanding this capability."

Once the prototype laser system is fitted to a ship the system will be tested against a remotely controlled small boat in a representative at-sea environment. The laser system uses technology from the Joint High Power Solid-State Laser (JHPSSL) program.

The laser system is appealing to the Navy because it offers the ability to provide a graduated response to a threat. The weapon system will be able to shine a low-power green laser on a target as a warning to stay away from a ship. If the warning isn’t effective, the high-power laser could then be used to damage the boats hull or destroy the boats engine.

One thing that still has to be worked out with the laser system is how it will perform in an at-sea environment when there is aerosol in the air that could scatter the laser beam. Wildt says, "The Navy wants to take this to sea to see how it operates and gather the data to make a real transition decision."

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