By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
July 20, 2010
On October 15, 2009, DefenseReview (DR) published an article on the U.S. Air Force’s successful testing of a Lockheed Martin Martin NC-130H-mounted Boeing Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) weapon system. As impressive as that may have been, Raytheon Company just picked up the gauntlet by shooting down four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) / unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) a.k.a. drone aircraft (drones) over the ocean near the U.S. Navy’s weapons and training facility on San Nicolas Island with a shipborne/ship-mounted solid-state laser weapon called, appropriately enough, the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), that may just end up working right alongside the Raytheon Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) 20mm gatling gun ship defense system (3,000 or 4,500 shots per minute ROF) on all of our large fighting ships to shoot down fast-moving aerial targets at distances/ranges that are beyond the Phalanx CIWS’ ballistic capability.
Just in case some Doubting Thomases out there weren’t prepared to take Raytheon’s word for it, they shot some nice grainy black and white video footage of the event (using a thermal/IR camera, from the looks of it) and released it at Farnborough International Air Show 2010. According to Mike Booen, vice president of Raytheon’s Advanced Security and Directed Energy Systems division, a major challenge for the Raytheon team was to overcome the maritime environment’s moist, salty air, which can apparently can wreak havoc on a laser’s ability to “propagate”.
So, what’s the next step? Looks like the LaWS is going up on an “operational U.S. Navy test ship” for further testing, soon.
Not to be outdone or left out of all that lucrative laser development funding and future contracts, Northrop Grumman plans to test its own solid-state Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD) system by the end of the year (2010). “The MLD system we are under contract to build for [the U.S. Office of Naval Research] will be scalable to a variety of power levels,” says Northrop spokesman Bob Bishop. “That means that laser power can be added—or subtracted—to meet the level of response necessary to address the threat, all within the same modular laser weapon system,” he adds. The U.S. military defense industrial complex at work, ladies and gentlemen.
Let’s just hope both the Raytheon and Northrop Grumman laser weapon systems work as advertised and are cost-effective.
Scientific American magazine reports that “Navy planners are interested in using lasers in to help naval vessels fend off potential attacks by squadrons of small boats, citing an incident that occurred in early 2008 in the Strait of Hormuz (a waterway connecting the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf).”
That’s not the only small-boat wake-up call that the US Navy’s received in the last ten years. Back in 2007, Defense Review discussed a U.S. Navy training exercise called “Millenium Challenge ’02″ that resulted in the sinking of two thirds (2/3 or 66.67%) of the U.S. Navy’s fleet by Opposing Force (OPFOR) Commander Gen. Paul Van Riper using small boat and aircraft hit and run tactics. Basically, Van Riper went through our naval forces like a hot knife through butter, and sank our mighty, unbeatable (sarcasm) aircraft carriers without breaking a sweat. DR isn’t sure whether or not there’s any truth to the rumor that after Van Riper was done, he went and had a snack, smoked a cigar, and laughed with his feet propped up on the admiral’s desk. We’re kidding. Gloating wasn’t necessary. The thrashing he gave the U.S. Navy battle group was more than enough.
Like I said, we hope the new laser weapons work as advertised. DR isn’t convinced, quite frankly, that our naval battle fleets are all that capable of protecting our aircraft carriers, or that our carriers are capable of protecting themselves against the latest and greatest anti-ship missiles and torpedoes and quiet submarines being developed and fielded by other countries. Working/viable U.S. shipborne laser weapons should help. They certainly can’t hurt.
Photo Credit: Raytheon Company
Company Contact Info:
870 Winter Street
Waltham, MA 02451-1449
Hat Tip: Scientific American