The Navy's Next High-Tech Laser For Warships Wants To Blow Drones Out Of The Sky

The High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system will be the first Department of Defense (DOD) contract to mount an integrated laser weapon system onto a warship with fixed price options for additional units.

Artist’s concept of the Lockheed Martin HELIOS in action(Credit: Lockheed Martin)

The United States Navy awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract, with options for an additional $942.8 million, to develop and manufacture two high power HELIOS systems to integrate with destroyers by 2020, detailed a Lockheed Martin press release on March 01.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. Image: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Wikimedia Commons

“The HELIOS program is the first of its kind, and brings together laser weapon, long-range ISR and counter-UAS capabilities, dramatically increasing the situational awareness and layered defense options available to the U.S. Navy,” said Michele Evans, vice president and general manager of Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors.

“This is a true system of capabilities, and we’re honored the Navy trusted Lockheed Martin to be a part of fielding these robust systems to the fleet,” she added.

Watch the United States Navy combat laser mounted on a warship annihilate UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small boat threats with precision:

According to Lockheed Martin, the HELIOS combines three key systems, unified together in the ultimate war machine:

  • A high-energy laser system: The high-energy fiber laser will be designed to counter unmanned aerial systems and small boats. The energy and thermal management system will leverage Lockheed Martin experience on Department of Defense programs, and the cooling system will be designed for maximum adaptability onboard ships. In addition, Lockheed Martin will bring decades of shipboard integration experience, reducing risk and increasing reliability.

  • A long-range ISR capability: HELIOS sensors will be part of an integrated weapon system, designed to provide decision-makers with maximum access to information. HELIOS data will be available on the Lockheed Martin-led Aegis Combat System.

  • A counter-UAS dazzler capability: The HELIOS dazzler will be designed to obscure adversarial UAS-based ISR capabilities.

The contract calls for two HELIOS by the fiscal year 2020. Lockheed Martin projects the first unit will deliver “for shipboard integration on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and one unit will be used for land testing at White Sands Missile Range.”

Laser weapon mounted on US Navy ship (file photo)

The deployment of the HELIOS integration on a warship represents “a watershed moment for directed energy,” Rob Afzal, a Lockheed Martin senior fellow of laser weapon systems, told reporters.

“Laser weapons systems have been desired for decades. One of the missing pieces to actually deploying laser weapons was that we didn’t actually have a laser that was powerful enough and small enough and efficient enough.”

“Lockheed Martin’s spectral beam combined fiber lasers bring flexibility and adaptability to defensive and offensive missions. Our design is scalable, and we can optimize it to meet requirements for future increments,” he added.

Bloomberg describes the HELIOS project as a major step forward in laser weapon development, but acknowledges non-integrated laser weapon systems have been mounted on war machines in the past:

While Helios is a major step toward laser combat, it’s by no means the first. A year ago, Lockheed delivered a laser weapon to the Army for installation on a truck as part of a $25 million contract. In November, the Air Force Research Lab gave the company $26 million to develop a high-energy laser to test on a fighter jet by 2021. The Navy tested a 30-kilowatt laser system aboard the USS Ponce in late 2014. That laser was on the ship but not integrated into its systems, as is expected for the Helios weapon. Raytheon Co. has gotten into the game with a tactical vehicle and dune buggy.

Raytheon is helping to develop a laser weapRaytheonon small and rugged enough to be mounted on a tactical ground vehicle. Illustration: Raytheon

“This high-energy laser technology is suitable for applications from land, air and sea,” Afzal said, predicting smaller, more powerful lasers. “It’s not just a one-mission capability.”

Nevertheless, the Department of Defense is planning for decades of hybrid wars across multiple domains — space, cyberspace, air, land, and, maritime. In doing so, the DOD is racing towards the integration of laser-powered weapon systems on warships.

We must ask the question — why?

As we found out on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin used his state-of-the-nation speech to warn the United States that Russia possesses hypersonic technologies that can render NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense system completely “useless.” Perhaps, we are starting to get the understanding how the next war will be fought: lasers and hypersonic weapons.