The US Navy presents its newest laser weapon


The US Navy Office of Naval Research has successfully tested an all-new all-electric laser weapon system. Designed to fry aerial threats like drones and missiles, the new weapon system is fully electric, so it doesn’t require chemicals.


Around the world, military forces are increasingly testing and deploying laser systems. The debriefing recently reported on the Iron Beam weapon system successfully tested by the Israeli Defense Ministry. The U.S. military has also tested several laser-based weapon systems with varying degrees of success, including a ship-mounted laser that blasted an incoming surface drone to pieces.

This latest effort is perhaps the most promising system to date, with the powerful electric laser capable of blasting enemy threats like drones or missiles out of the sky.

211214-N-VQ947-1142 GULF OF ADEN (Dec. 14, 2021) — The amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) performs a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration at a surface training target static, Dec. 14, while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. During the demonstration, the Mark 2 MOD 0 demonstrator of Portland’s onboard Solid State Laser Technology Maturing Laser Weapons System successfully engaged the practice target. (US Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kates)


Dubbed the Layered Laser Defense (LLD) system by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the laser weapon designed by Lockheed Martin marks a significant technological breakthrough. Unlike laser weapon systems designed and tested in the 1980s, the LLD is fully electric. As such, the LLD system does not carry chemicals or propellants, which greatly improves safety and cost concerns. Additionally, since the final model is designed for ship-based deployment, the LLD could theoretically operate with unlimited ammunition as long as the ship can supply electrical power.

“The Navy performed similar tests in the 1980s, but with chemical-based laser technologies that presented significant logistical hurdles for fielding in an operational environment,” said portfolio manager Dr Frank Peterkin. of directed energy from the ONR. “And, ultimately, these types of lasers didn’t make the transition to the fleet or any other service.”

There is also a cost savings benefit to the Navy for this type of system. For example, Israel’s Iron Dome costs over $150,000 to shoot down a single incoming missile, while a neutralizing shot from their Iron Beam laser system costs a few hundred dollars at most. According to a report in New Atlas, LLD should cost around a dollar per shot.

The system also offers other advantages. For example, it is equipped with a high-resolution telescope that allows operators to identify and assess weapon effectiveness. The system can also adjust its power output, which can disable and fail to destroy specific targets that the Navy may not want to destroy. The system can also target surface threats such as fast attack boats or shipborne drones.

In February, the Office of Naval Research conducted LLD system testing at the US Army‘s High Energy Laser Systems Test Center at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. According to a TechSpot report, “The LLD was tested against a wide range of targets, including unmanned fixed-wing aerial vehicles and quadcopters as well as high-speed drones that acted as replacements for subsonic cruise missiles. “. All tests were successful, with the LLD system downing all targets.

marine laser
Targeting the drone during the LLD system test. Credit: Lockheed Martin


The Navy noted that there are no immediate plans to deploy LLD into service. However, the technology on display and advancements in laser systems since the 1980s mean that it’s probably only a matter of time before bard ship lasers are commonplace.


“Innovative laser systems like LLD have the potential to redefine the future of naval combat operations,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Lorin C. Selby. “They present transformative capabilities to the fleet, respond to various threats, and provide precision engagements with a deep loader to supplement existing defensive systems and enhance sustainable lethality in high-intensity conflict.”

“LLD is an example of what a highly advanced laser system can do to defeat significant threats to naval forces,” added David Kiel, a former Navy captain who is a program officer in the aviation department, of force projection and integrated defense of the ONR, which managed the test. “And we have ongoing efforts, both at ONR and in other Navy programs, to continue to build on these results in the near future.”

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Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction


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