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Laser weapon will be the first to be deployed on a ship

The U.S. Navy has announced that it will deploy a prototype laser weapon aboard a Navy ship later this summer. The announcement is confirmation of the Navy's plans that were announced almost exactly a year ago today. In April of 2013, the Navy promised that it would be ready for shipboard testing of laser weapons by this summer.
The prototype laser that will be deployed is an improved version of the Laser Weapon System known as LaWS. The laser will be installed on the USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf.
“This is a revolutionary capability,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder. “It’s absolutely critical that we get this out to sea with our sailors for these trials, because this very affordable technology is going to change the way we fight and save lives.”

A 2012 test of LaWS against a UAV 

Navy officials say that the laser weapon is a top priority to counter asymmetric threats like unmanned and light aircraft as well as small attack boats. The major benefits of laser weapons include that they have an “unlimited” magazine and attacks at the speed of light.
“Our nation’s adversaries are pursuing a variety of ways to try and restrict our freedom to operate,” Klunder said. “Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats.”
Sailors control the laser system using a game-like controller to target a range of threats and control whether the treat is disabled or destroyed. The Navy currently has three prototypes and will determine which of the three is most suitable to move forward next year.

Source: ONR

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the goal
By daboom06 on 4/8/2014 9:29:55 AM , Rating: 2
“Spending about $1 per shot of a directed-energy source that never runs out gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats."

and everyone knows the goal is to create a weapon that's more ok to fire.

RE: the goal
By dgingerich on 4/8/2014 11:12:53 AM , Rating: 5
The current defensive weapons used to take down cruise and direct missiles are fast running machine guns and flak cannons.

The flak cannons cost around $50 per shot and only hit their targets around 5% of the time per host. The idea behind these is to get enough shots in the area to take down the incoming missile.

The fast machine guns put out a nearly continuous stream of lead, costing around $200 per second of firing. They're only effective close in and have totally automated targeting.

In short, a single incoming missile would cost about $50,000-75,000 to take down, much cheaper than losing a carrier, but still expensive. Changing this over to a laser saves a lot of money. It also happens to be more effective and takes up much less space. Refining this technology further would make it even more effective over time. They already plan on integrating automated defensive targeting systems into this.

Imagine working on a carrier desk, preparing a jet for takeoff, and suddenly half a dozen small pods pop up and start rotating and moving around. You see and hear nothing from them other than basic movement. Suddenly an explosion happens half a mile out, then another, then two more. The pods drop back down below deck, and you feel quite safe from enemy missiles.

RE: the goal
By inperfectdarkness on 4/8/2014 12:39:51 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Only in most likelihood, it will be an Aegis cruiser or destroyer that will be carrying lasers or railguns. We have carrier strike GROUPS for a reason, and the carriers themselves are virtually defenseless because they don't inherently need defenses. Between the support ships and the fighter/attack/EA/AEW aircraft that it carries, a carrier has plenty of defensive options.

RE: the goal
By smyrgl on 4/8/2014 12:52:43 PM , Rating: 2
Carriers don't really need additional defenses against missile swarms--everything that can float these days is being packed with VLS silos and the Navy really doesn't need more missile ships. A massed missile attack against a carrier would not be an effective strategy as AEGIS is more than capable of handling this sort of attack and even a massed attack from a half dozen SSGNs would only result in several sunk submarines. A MUCH more serious threat to Carriers is torpedoes as it only takes a couple to cripple or sink a carrier outright and the defenses against such a threat aren't nearly as capable.

Lasers really aren't a solution for better missile defense despite what the Navy might be intimating--they already have excellent solutions for that. They are solutions for asymmetric threats for the future maybe they will get an expanded role but for now their utility is pretty limited.

RE: the goal
By NellyFromMA on 4/9/2014 1:22:59 PM , Rating: 2
No one said they didn't have a plethora of options. Laser are a promising cost-effective option. And yes, they are relevant in anti-missile scenarios. That's all.

RE: the goal
By inperfectdarkness on 4/9/2014 3:25:58 PM , Rating: 2
They might--in the future--also be useful against swarm tactics, the kind that Iran likes to use (a bunch of small boats used en masse. Lasers would be able to target and destroy/disable these much faster than conventional targeting means.

RE: the goal
By smyrgl on 4/8/2014 12:43:44 PM , Rating: 2
Actually CIWS guns are really the last line of defense against missile attacks, the primary tool AEGIS uses is SM-2/SM-3 as well as ESSM. And at $800k for an ESSM and a whopping $10 million for Standard it's pretty expensive to fire these things.

Of course laser weapons are really a compliment to all these systems not a replacement. Where laser weapons can really shine is for point defense against small targets like the one involved in the USS Cole bombing.

RE: the goal
By dgingerich on 4/8/2014 2:08:18 PM , Rating: 2
I guess I was thinking more old school. I did know the CIWS (I didn't know the name) gun was the last line of defense after seeing it in a History Channel show with R Lee Ermey, as well as the flak cannons. (Mail Call, I think.) They didn't mention the interceptor missiles in that show at all. You obviously know more about this than I do. I was just trying to write a narrative.

However, I'm fairly certain they're trying to make the laser the main defense, in part to save money, but also for accuracy. I've certain it can be the main defense and react faster than interceptor missiles could. Considering the range on this laser right now, 10-12 miles from what I've read, it could be a quite effective defense after a bit more refining.

I found it funny when that Chinese politician claimed that the smog around China's cities could make an effective defense against our laser weapons. He obviously didn't know what we would be using them for.

RE: the goal
By smyrgl on 4/8/2014 3:06:36 PM , Rating: 2
With respect you are incorrect and I'd be glad to explain why. Let me give a little background first.

The system the Navy uses for missile defense (AEGIS) is an integrated defense system which coordinates between the various fleet radars and provides threat tracking and fire control. All of the weapons we are discussing play a role in this system including Standard Missile (SM-2, SM-3), CIWS, ESSM, etc. It also coordinates track and targeting with the CAP fighters as well as the carrier E-2. Altogether it forms many concentric rings of defense for the fleet.

Now here are some problems with your conclusions:

1) Standard can engage targets at up to 200nm away (that's an upper limit of sorts but it should give you an idea of the engagement envelope) and does not need preparation prior to launch. That's why it is in a sealed VLS cell.

2) The current laser weapons the navy has been playing with are in the 20kW range and are solid state. 20kW is simply not all that powerful--THEL was a megawatt class weapon that was designed to be used for missile defense and that would be around what you'd want for such a weapon. 20kW simply isn't going to be effective against a heavy anti-ship missile like a P-700.

3) One of the reasons Standard is such a fantastic weapon is that it is offensive as well as defensive and can have targeting adjusted on the fly. That means that if a missile swarm is detected you can launch a return volley and then adjust some of the outbound missiles to attack the launchers once the inbounds are down.

4) The range of this laser system classifies it as part of the point defense circles of engagement and if missiles make it that far you are already in trouble.

5) Yes Standard and ESSM are very expensive. But the costs per shot aren't really all that relevant because we don't actually fire these things off regularly. Do you know how many missile swarms the US Navy has had to deal with in the last 50 years?

6) Lasers are RIDICULOUSLY weather dependent. They are simply not reliable enough to be useful for primary missile defense at this time.

Add all this up and you will see that a 20kW laser would be wonderful to have for close in low intensity threats (again see USS Cole) but is not for what you think it is for.

RE: the goal
By NellyFromMA on 4/9/2014 1:25:46 PM , Rating: 2
Good points. But, wouldn't you agree that from an engineering stand-point, there are plenty of questions about getting megawatt-class weapons shipboard that can be answered by moving the article-cited weapon shipboard that will be conducive towards more effective version down the road?

There are obviously unique challenges to each, but there are a whole litany of common challenges as well.

RE: the goal
By e36Jeff on 4/8/2014 3:21:29 PM , Rating: 2
The laser, or at least this laser, is still going to be the last line of defense designed to replace/supplement the Phalanx/RIM-116 CIWS. Its range is too short to be the long range defense, and its dwell time is too long to take out a large swarm of missiles. The Phalanx/RIM-116 will likely continue to exist on the ships for a time for boat/helicopter/jet interdiction, as the laser would likely take too long to bring them to a halt.

I just hope that they use the same philosophy they used with designing the Phalanx/SeaRAM, where the CIWS system is totally contained, and does not external information to engage targets. This means if your ship takes damage, as long as your CIWS still has power(and hasn't been hit itself), it will keep firing, regardless of what has been crippled by the hits.

RE: the goal
By Samus on 4/8/2014 6:49:36 PM , Rating: 2
The other benefit is silence. This weapon will make no noise. The target won't even know what hit them, likely assuming a malfunction at first instead of an attack. That is a huge warfare advantage.

Overall usability?
By melgross on 4/8/2014 9:41:01 AM , Rating: 2
Two questions I'd like to see answered.

One is how quickly can this fire? Taking something down might require several shots. The more quickly those shots can be made will decide on how useful this will be during a real battle with multiple targets.

Two is how this will be affected by rain, fog and the like. If it only works in clear weather, then it is only partly usable. There is no guarantee that an attack will only take place when the ship can best defend itself.

RE: Overall usability?
By deltaend on 4/8/2014 10:12:20 AM , Rating: 2
It will be able to fire a continuous stream, so fire rate is not the question here. The question is about intensity and just like you asked, the intensity during conditions that aren't ideal. Of course, this isn't the only weapon that this boat will have, so I doubt that they will truly be too vulnerable in foggy conditions.

RE: Overall usability?
By PaFromFL on 4/8/2014 10:37:26 AM , Rating: 2
Photons don't always go where you want them. The main drawback is blindness if the laser light accidentally scatters off a nearby drone or passes near aircraft. I suspect all crew members will need to wear safety glasses. Friendly fire may produce actual fires.

RE: Overall usability?
By dgingerich on 4/8/2014 11:03:45 AM , Rating: 2
They use specialized adjustable mirrors and a targeting/distortion laser to reduce scattering, making it much more effective. It can take down a drone or cruise missile in about 3-4 seconds of continuous fire, smaller missiles are taken out faster, but harder to hit. No extra eye protection is needed for the crew of the ship because it doesn't back-scatter.

RE: Overall usability?
By Mitch101 on 4/8/2014 11:49:05 AM , Rating: 3
However all of this is useless compared to a fully armed and operations battle station.

Kickstarter Open Source Death Star
Initial design (not for kids)

RE: Overall usability?
By kattanna on 4/8/2014 11:26:40 AM , Rating: 2

im suprised to see it being tested on an OLD diesel boat.

but.. given the abilities of the laser, I guess it makes sense actually.

RE: Overall usability?
By Arkive on 4/8/2014 12:40:31 PM , Rating: 2
I would imagine if it can bake through metal it should be able to clear a path through rain drops and/or fog. That said, precise and continued target acquisition will always be the most difficult challenge with a weapon like this, especially at higher velocities. Remember, a missile-based weapon only has to intercept the target and explode. A laser-based weapon has to stay focused on a very specific point on the target until failure occurs.

Pew Pew
By Cluebat on 4/8/2014 1:20:59 PM , Rating: 3
Yes- but can they mount it on a shark?

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