Navy’s Maritime Laser Demonstrator
Navy moves one step closer to operational laser weaponry…
Earlier this month the Navy’s Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) – a solid state laser (SSL) that generates beams of light by firing electrons through crystal – successfully destroyed a target vessel floating in the choppy waters off San Nicholas Island, California.
On Wednesday 6th April, the MLD mounted aboard the decommissioned USS Paul Foster, fired a 15-kilowatt beam on a target ship 1 km out at sea. The beam was able to disable the ship by taking out the on-board motors with pin point accuracy, leaving it dead in the water.
Previous test had all been on land, but the recent test shows the system’s ability to track and eliminate moving targets in moving waters. The tests come three years after the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract worth up to $98 million to build the Maritime Laser Demonstrator, putting the Navy one step closer to its dream of a fleet of vessels armed with high-powered lasers.
The Navy wants laser so bad in fact that it has also funded the development of another two laser-weapons. Raytheon were awarded a contract for the development of another solid state laser, Laser Weapons System (LaWS), a laser upgrade to the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) already mounted on many war ships. During its testing phase, the LaWS has already shot down a UAV traveling at 300mph at a distance of 2km.
And another alternative system known as the Free Electron Laser (FEL) is being development following research conducted by ONR. The FEL uses super charged electron streams that operate along multiple wave lengths, to produce a beam of light that could be more powerful than the SSL.
The Navy wants a high-powered laser operation within a decade, and although such weapons may still have a long way to go before deployment, the recent tests clearly demonstrate their effectiveness. And as Rear Admiral Nevin Carr said in an interview with Danger Room, it’s simply amazing that in laser weaponry will have evolved from a science fiction concept to a modern day weapon all within the span of a few generations.
“I spent my life at sea and I never thought we’d see this kind of progress this quickly, where we’re approaching a decision of when we can put laser weapons on ships.” [Wired]
- Spencer Ackerman: Video: Navy Laser Sets Ship on Fire. Danger Room, Wired, 04/08/2011.
- Sam Biddle: Navy Successfully Pew Pews Little Boat with Solid-State Laser Gun. Gizmodo, 04/08/2011.
- Summary of Lasers for Weapons. Next Big Future, 08/2011.