To the Next Level
NAVY LOOKS TO SCALE UP LASER WEAPONS FOR FUTURE OPERATIONS
BY DANIEL P. TAYLOR, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
The Navy has demonstrated that lasers can
work against real threats, and there is talk
of scaling up to a 150-kilowatt weapon.
The service is looking to take a big step
forward this year.
Earlier this year, Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director
of surface warfare, announced that the Navy was looking to go beyond the 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System
(La WS) currently being tested toward a 150-kilowatt
“super-laser,” and it could be available within a year.
Despite Boxall’s public remarks in January, the
Navy is not quite ready to go on the record about
future advancements to laser weapons. A Navy spokes-
person declined to comment on a future 150-kilowatt
weapon, saying: “Due to this program currently being
in the research phase, it would be inappropriate from
both a security and a contracting perspective to com-
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been actively
meeting with industry on the subject of laser weapons.
ONR held an industry briefing classified as “secret” on
March 3 to discuss the Solid-State Laser Simulation
Experiment (SIMEX) that took place last October.
“The purpose of this SIMEX was to explore Tactics,
Techniques and Procedures as well as mission effectiveness of Solid-State Laser weapons employment in
a Carrier Strike Group,” the ONR announcement states.
“The objective of this briefing is to share the SIMEX
17-1 results, insights and operator feedback with
The announcement further notes that there is “high
interest” from industry in the event.
Asked about La WS, ONR referred to a December
2014 statement describing the first deployment of
La WS on the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim)
USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf. In the test, La WS was
able to hit targets mounted on an oncoming small boat
as well as shoot a ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehi-
cle (UAV) from the sky. La WS remained aboard Ponce
during its later deployments and the ship was autho-
rized to use the system as a defensive weapon.
“Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will
play a vital role in the future of naval combat opera-
tions,” Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, then-chief of
naval research, said in the statement. “We ran this par-
ticular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely
tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets
we designated with near-instantaneous lethality.”
But nearly two and a half years later, are lasers any-
where closer to real, regular operational use? Boxall’s
remarks suggest that the Navy is trying to expand the
capabilities of laser weapons in an aggressive way,
which would indicate that service leadership sees them
as a serious future weapon, and not just a gimmick.
Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, said the demonstration of the La WS and the progress in the last few
years make the Navy a lot closer to a practical weapon
than many people might think.
It will not be blasting holes in ships anytime soon,
but it certainly could be adapted for “lower-tier” uses,
such as taking down an unmanned aircraft or stopping
a swarm of small boats, Karako said.
“It’s a real-world thing, and it’s got some nice
applications,” he said. “It can be modulated, so it
might just kill the boat’s engine without a lot of other
things, but it’s clearly got some demonstrated kills
notched as well.”
With the recent demonstrations of lasers knocking
down drones, it certainly appears the Navy is moving
ever closer to real capability against hard as well as
soft targets, he said.
“Folks have been killing rockets, artillery and
mortars for 20 years, now it’s kind of moving to the
operational side,” he said. “I think what this really
portends to, in the near term, is I expect to see fielding
of lower-tier air- or sea-based threats to ships.”