US Navy Laser Cannons Could Replace Gatling Guns, Missiles On Warships

Back in March, we explained how the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system would be one of the first Department of Defense (DoD) contracts to mount an integrated laser cannon onto the U.S. Navy’s destroyers. We also noted, the DoD awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract, with options for an additional $942.8 million, to manufacture multiple HELIOS units with a completion date of 2020.

According to new information obtained by We Are The Mighty from the Lockheed exhibit at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland, this sea-based 150 kilowatts laser cannon would be the most powerful directed energy weapon system to ever  be installed on a warship. In contrast, the 30 kilowatts Laser Weapon System (LaWS) was installed on USS Ponce for field testing in 2014. It has since proven to be effective against UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small boat threats.

We Are The Mighty, also obtained knowledge that HELIOS is a prime candidate to replace the MK-15 Phalanx Close-in Weapons System (CIWS) and the RIM-116 missile system on warships.

The Mk15 Phalanx carries more ammo than the launchers for the RIM-116, but has a much shorter range. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Weinert)

The Phalanx MK-15 weapon system is a radar-guided 20 mm Vulcan cannon providing “inner layer point defense capability against anti-ship missiles, aircraft and littoral warfare threats,” according to a US Navy fact file. “Phalanx automatically detects, evaluates, tracks, engages and performs kill assessment against ASM and high-speed aircraft threats.”   

Citing the materials from Lockheed, We Are The Mighty explained how the HELIOS also has the potential to replace the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), small, lightweight, infrared homing surface-to-air missile in use on combat ships.

The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile has a range of five nautical miles, but the launcher can only hold so many rounds. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr.)

Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments, a longtime supporter of lasers, said, “it is clear evidence of the progress that has been made over the last several years on maturing solid-state lasers.  We are talking about lasers that now have the power and beam quality needed to defend against UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), small boat threats, and possibly some weapons (e.g. incoming missiles) over short ranges.”

“It also highlights how serious the Navy is about fielding non-kinetic defenses with deep ‘electric’ magazines,” Gunzinger said. Unlike guns and missiles, a laser doesn’t run out of ammunition as long as it has electrical power.  

Watch the US Navy’s field test the LaWS laser system

The HELIOS has a comparable range to the RIM-116 (about five nautical miles), while the missile system holds 11 or 21 missiles, the laser cannon has an unlimited amount of ammo — dependent on an adequate supply of electricity.

As fears of World War III have migrated from the Korean peninsula to the Middle East, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Pentagon is expected to unleash an array of revolutionary weaponry against its next adversary. War with Iran is nearing…