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US Navy performs ‘historic’ test of new laser weapon system…

25 Apr 2022

…while BlueHalo delivers LOCUST laser defense system to Palletized Hi-Energy Laser project.

The U.S. Navy has conducted what it called “a historic test” of a new laser weapon system, bring down a test drone that was incapacitated with a high-energy laser beam. February’s demonstration, announced last week, marked the first time the U.S. Navy used an all-electric, high-energy laser weapon to defeat a target representing a subsonic cruise missile in flight.

Known as the Layered Laser Defense (LLD), the weapon was designed and built by Lockheed Martin to serve as a multi-domain, multi-platform demonstration system.

The LLD can counter unmanned aerial systems (drones) and fast-attack boats with a high-power laser—and also use its high-resolution telescope to track in-bound air threats, support combat identification and conduct battle damage assessment of engaged targets.

The drone shoot-down by the LLD was part of a recent test sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) at the U.S. Army’s High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The demonstration was a partnership between ONR, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering) and Lockheed Martin.

‘Redefining naval combat’

“Innovative laser systems like the LLD have the potential to redefine the future of naval combat operations,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Lorin C. Selby. “They present transformational capabilities to the fleet, address diverse threats, and provide precision engagements with a deep magazine to complement existing defensive systems and enhance sustained lethality in high-intensity conflict.”

The LLD testing supports a broader effort by the naval research and development community, partnered closely with the fleet, to mature technologies and field a family of laser weapons that can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options. These capabilities range from non-lethal measures, such as optical “dazzling” and disabling of sensors, to destruction of a target.

The U.S. Department of Defense has long recognized the promise of directed-energy weapons, such as lasers, and continues to prioritize research. Recently, the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the Hon. Heidi Shyu, re-affirmed that directed energy is one of the DoD’s critical technology areas.

Although there is currently no plan to field the LLD, it offers a glimpse into the future of laser weapons. It is compact and powerful, yet more efficient than previous systems. It has specialized optics to observe a target and focus laser beams to maximum effect, while also incorporating artificial intelligence to improve tracking and targeting.

“LLD is an example of what a very advanced laser system can do to defeat significant threats to naval forces,” said David Kiel, a former Navy captain who is a program officer in ONR’s Aviation, Force Projection and Integrated Defense Department, which managed the testing. “And we have ongoing efforts, both at ONR and in other Navy programs, to keep building on these results in the near future.”

During the recent test at White Sands, the LLD tracked or shot down an array of targets—including unmanned fixed-wing aerial vehicles, quadcopters and high-speed drones representative of subsonic cruise missiles.

“The Layered Laser Defense system defeated a surrogate cruise missile threat in partnership with the Navy, White Sands Missile Range and Army High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility teams. Lockheed Martin drew laser weapon subsystems from across the corporation, including key industry partner Rolls-Royce, to support the entire threat engagement timeline from target detection to defeat,” said Rick Cordaro, vice president, Lockheed Martin Advanced Product Solutions.

BlueHalo LOCUST laser weapon joins Palletized High Energy Laser program

BlueHalo, an Arlington, Virginia-based developer of military and aerospace-related technologies, has delivered its LOCUST system to be integrated into the Palletized High Energy Laser (P-HEL) system.

The U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, in support of the Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO), established the P-HEL program to address the threat of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) by developing this counter-sUAS prototype.

The JCO intends to evaluate the P-HEL in an operationally relevant environment this spring at Yuma Proving Grounds, to be followed by possible deployment of the system overseas for further evaluation and operational use.

The JCO commented that the LOCUST system had “performed well as part of the integrated P-HEL C-UAS system during a recent risk reduction field event, tracking, engaging, and defeating several UAS targets.” The LOCUST system combines precision optical and laser hardware with advanced software, algorithms, and processing to enable and enhance the directed energy “kill chain”, which includes tracking, identifying, and engaging a wide variety of targets with its hard-kill HEL.

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