Video Above: Northrop Grumman & Eastern Shipbuilding Group Build New Weapons Into Coast Guard OffShore Patrol Cutter

byKris Osborn- Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) Navy destroyers will soon be armed with high-powered, precision 60kw laser weapons that can track and incinerate attacking drone targets at sea, bringing new “at-the-speed-of-light” attack technology to maritime warfare in new ways.

Lasers have of course been operational for years, as the Navy’s Laser Weapons System (LAWs) was deployed on the USS Ponce several years ago. However, the service has for many years been working with industry partners tofurther refine, sharpen, strengthen, and power-scale newerlaser-weapon applications. One of them, called High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS), will soon be arming U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class DDG 51 Flight IIA destroyers.

Rear Adm. Boxall, the Navy’s former director of surface warfare, previously indicated that the HELIOS would go on the USS Preble, a move which the Navy expects to happen later this year. The speed and technical advances of Navy laser systems were highlighted in a recent Chief of Naval Operations CNO NAVPLAN strategy document, in which CNO Adm. Michael Gilday writes that the service is on pace to deploy new, highly-capable lasers ahead of rival nations.

“We will complete fielding of the high-power directed energy weapons systems our fleet needs to prevail in a near-peer fight before our adversaries achieve the same capability,” the CNO NAVPLAN states.

The Lockheed-built weapon is now operationaland has been delivered to the Navy, following years of development. HELIOS is slated to be integrated on destroyers later this year, following a series of ongoing testing at Wallops Island, Va.

The testing, HELIOS weapons developers explain, will begin on land-based sites and move to sea based tests where the laser is fired against drones from a destroyer at sea.

“We will be testing the accuracy and the ability of a laser to take out smaller targets, proving out a lot of work we have done in the lab,” Jon Rambeau, Vice President and General Manager, Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems and Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors, told Warrior in an interview.

HELIOS is a 60kw laser system, engineered with multiple kilowatt fibers to reach new levels of precision, surveillance, beam quality and strength or power levels. Lockheed Martin completed the Critical Design Review and Navy Factory Qualification Test milestones in 2020.

“HELIOS is designed to be compatible with the ships and integrate seamlessly into ships, cooling systems and power systems. There is operational hardware that integrates into the ship hardware,” Rambeau said.

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Refining, testing and improvingmaritime laser technology has been a long-standing Navy developmental effort, which has sought to balance the requisite heat, cooling and expeditionary electrical power requirements needed to support laser weapons operations. Lockheed information on the weapon cites that HELIOS is built with “Thermal & Environmental Management Subsystems, Refrigerant Cooling, Ship’s Chilled Water & Clean Dry Air Distribution” as well as a “Spectral Beam Combined Fiber Laser.”

HELIOS will also be integrated with Navy ship AEGIS Combat Systems which draw upon commontechnical standardsto synergize fire control, ballistic missile defense and emerging weapons such as lasers.

“This is an ability for us to validate technology, so that we can continue to design similar capabilities in the future,” Rambeau added.

Lasers to Change Combat

When the Navy is ready to deploy a new 60kw ship-fired laser weapon from a Destroyer later this year, maritime attack strategy and tactics will enter new dimensions of massive warfare on the open seas.

Later this year, the Navy reports, the emerging High-Energy Laser with Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) will arm an Arleigh Burke Flight IIA DDG 51 destroyer, following additional land and ocean testing and assessments.

This means that Navy destroyers will operate with the ability to incinerate enemy drones with great precision at the speed of light, stunning, burning or simply disabling them. Not only are lasers quiet, low-cost, scalable and precise, but perhaps of even greater significance, they fire at the speed of light. Pure speed, when it comes to ocean warfare, is increasing vital as new technologies enter the sphere of Naval warfare, greatly changing the tactical equation. Modern Maritime warfare, as described in the U.S. Navy’s just released CNO NAVPLAN strategy document, is becoming increasingly dispersed, networked and driven by new levels of AI-enabled autonomy.

“Ubiquitous and persistent sensors, advanced battle networks, and weapons of increasing range and speed have driven us to a more dispersed type of fight …. keeping ahead of our competitors requires us to rapidly field state-of-the art systems. Speed matters,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday writes in the just released CNO NAVPLAN.

How might ship-fired laser weapons change tactical dynamics and strategies when it comes to Maritime warfare? Instead of using expensive interceptor missiles fired from U.S. Navy destroyer Vertical Launch Systems, commanders will now have the option to merely stun, or disable a target without completely destroying or exploding it. Reducing explosive effects, such as those likely generated by SM-2 or SM-6 interceptor weapons, can lower the risk of causing civilian casualties with bomb debris or fragmentation should a scenario unfold in a highly-trafficked ocean environment.

Lasers such as HELIOS also bring a substantial optical component, meaning they can act as a sensor to track targets and help with necessary surveillance missions. Lasers could also in some instances enable surface warships to close in more fully upon enemy positions, given that deck-mounted guns could be supplemented by laser weapons attacking at the speed of light and engineered to pinpoint narrow target areas with precision-guidance technology.

“HELIOS is designed to be compatible with the ships and integrate seamlessly into ships, cooling systems and power systems. There is operational hardware that integrates into the ship hardware,” Jon Rambeau, Vice President and General Manager, Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems and Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors, told Warrior in an interview.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.