Solid-state laser defends navy ship against small-boat threats

The US Office of Naval Research (ONR) and an industry partner have successfully tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) from a surface ship, which disabled a small target vessel.

The navy and Northrop Grumman completed at-sea testing of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), which is said to have validated the potential to provide advanced self-defence for surface ships and personnel by keeping small-boat threats at a safe distance.

The latest test took place near San Nicholas Island, off the coast of central California in the Pacific Ocean test range. The laser was mounted onto the deck of the navy’s self-defence test ship, the former USS Paul Foster (DD 964).

‘This is the first time a HEL, at these power levels, has been put on a navy ship, powered from that ship and used to defeat a target at range in a maritime environment,’ said Peter Morrison, program officer for ONR’s MLD.

In just slightly more than two-and-a-half years, the MLD has gone from contract award to demonstrating a navy ship defensive capability, he said.

‘We are learning a ton from this programme — how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons,’ Morrison said. ‘All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome.’

Additionally, the navy accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating MLD with a ship’s radar and navigation system and firing an electric laser weapon from a moving platform at sea in a humid environment.

Other tests of solid-state lasers for the navy have been conducted from land-based positions.

Having access to a HEL weapon will one day provide war fighters with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

But while the MLD test on 6 April proves the ability to use a scalable laser to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapon systems.