US Navy tweaks destroyer-based laser effort
Lockheed Martin is moving ahead with developing a laser weapon system for the US Navy but in a different sequence than originally planned, according to a company official.
Instead of building two units – one for land-based testing, the other for installation on a ship – Lockheed Martin will produce a single system that will be tested on land first, then moved to a destroyer.
‘We’re using the one system to do both,’ said Brendan Scanlon, Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS programme director. ‘We’re doing things [in] a little more serial manner.'
Scanlon attributed the change to reductions in how much money the navy has available each year for the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system. Under a new ‘funding profile,’ the programme will spend its budget over a longer period of time, and HELIOS will be delivered to a destroyer in 2021, a year later than previously scheduled.
Despite the revisions, HELIOS is making significant progress, Scanlon told reporters on 1 May. The system underwent a preliminary design review in March, and Lockheed Martin has begun building subsystems. A critical design review is slated for the first quarter of 2020, and the company expects to finish integrating HELIOS in mid-2020.
HELIOS will have three main features: a high-energy fiber laser to counter unmanned aircraft and small boats; sensors to conduct long-range surveillance; and a dazzler to blind an adversary drone’s surveillance sensors. The navy has said that the high-energy laser will have a power level of at least 60 kW.
When installed on an Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA destroyer, HELIOS will be integrated with the ship’s Aegis combat system so they can share information with each other.
‘All the sensors that are onboard the ship … will provide cues to our laser weapon system,’ Scanlon explained.
The navy awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract for HELIOS in January 2018. The service is also pursuing several other laser weapon efforts, including a ‘low-power’ laser that it intends to begin fielding on ships this year to blind drones.
‘Laser weapon systems are no longer five years away,’ Scanlon said. ‘They’re here now.’
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