U.S. spaceships might not engage in galactic combat in the near future, but the Navy is preparing to deploy a futuristic and powerful laser weapon on its ships within the next two years.
“We’re doing a lot more with lasers,” said Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of the Surface Warfare Division, at the Surface Naval Association national symposium earlier this month.
Unlike traditional naval guns, Laser Weapon Systems, known as LaWS in military jargon, are measured in kilowatts as opposed to caliber. The Navy plans to test fire a 150 kilowatt laser weapon off a ship within a year. “Then a year later, we’ll have that on a carrier or a destroyer or both,” said Boxall.
The 150 kilowatt weapon is a massive upgrade from the 30 kilowatt AN/SEQ-3 (also known as the XN-1 LaWS) currently deployed on the USS Ponce. The AN/SEQ-3 was first deployed in 2014, and is available to the ship’s commander as a defensive weapon to shoot down incoming missiles, drones, boats and other potential threats.
To put the weapon’s power in perspective, 150 kilowatt is enough energy to power 1,500 modern light bulbs.
Laser weapons offer advantages that traditional kinetic weapons do not. LaWS systems are extremely precise, have a low cost per shot and do not require ammunition. Like the lasers seen in Star Trek, they can also fire in a sustained pulse.
Impressive as the LaWS may be, it requires a massive amount of power to operate.
“The Navy will be looking at ships’ servers to provide three times that much power,” Donald Klick, director of business development for DRS Power and Control Technologies, told Scout Warrior. “To be putting out 150 kws, they (the weapons) will be consuming 450 kws.”
The LaWS huge power requirement would overtax the energy resources of most navy ships, meaning they may require an “energy magazine,” according to a Naval Postgraduate School paper titled “Power Systems and Energy Storage Modeling for Directed Energy Weapons” by Jeremy Sylvester. Theoretically, such a magazine would be made of batteries, capacitors or flywheels and would recharge between pulses.
Once the energy issues are worked out, LaWS systems could prove to be a crucial mainstay in the military’s arsenal. The weapons could be particularly useful against swarm threats posed by drones and fast-attack boats, threats which are being explored by adversaries like Iran and China. Additionally, the laser weapons could see deployment on other platforms, such as aircraft.
“We’re looking at Air Force Special Forces on a C-130. You have to strike a car, but you’re worried about collateral damage,” said Klick. “With that pinpoint accuracy, you don’t have to worry about collateral damage. You can just cause a car to stop running. There’s a lot more capability.”