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US Navy Test-Fires ‘Most Potent’ Laser Weapon System

The US Navy amphibious transport ship USS Portland has test-fired a high-energy laser weapon system in the Gulf of Aden.

The 150-kilowatt Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator (LWSD) packs five times the power of Northrop Grumman’s AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, which the navy installed on the USS Ponce seven years ago.

The LWSD has more than twice the power of the 60-kilowatt HELIOS system the navy received this year from Lockheed Martin, which was installed on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.  

Sea Trials Began in 2020 

Northrop Grumman was awarded the three-stage LWSD contract comprising development, ground testing, and sea trials in 2015. The US Navy began sea trials in May last year, striking an unmanned aerial target midair. In the latest test, the laser struck a floating target, displaying a more comprehensive target engagement range.

According to a Lexington Institute report, a 150-kilowatt laser weapon is capable of neutralizing “unmanned aerial vehicles, small boats, rockets, artillery and mortars,” adding that the time frame between a demonstrator and a deployable weapon is relatively short. The navy has not revealed a time frame for the laser’s deployment, nor has its range been disclosed.

Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) lowers a static surface training target into the Gulf of Aden before conducting a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration, Dec. 14. Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert/ US Marine Corps

Capable of Defense, Surveillance

According to The War Zone, the system is primarily a “close-in defense system” to physically strike a range of aerial and surface targets. The system can also be deployed as a “dazzler to blind optical sensors and seeker systems” of missiles and drones, besides being used as a “surveillance system leveraging the integral full-motion video cameras.”  

The US navy has been developing directed-energy weapons, including lasers, since the 60s. According to the US Indo-Pacific Command, directed-energy weapons are “electromagnetic systems capable of converting chemical or electrical energy to radiated energy and focusing it on a target, resulting in physical damage that degrades, neutralizes, defeats, or destroys an adversarial capability.”

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