Military laser weapon research aims at defending U.S. Navy ships at sea

By John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va.–U.S. Navy researchers are asking two U.S. defense contractors to develop military laser prototypes of a future laser weapon of megawatt power to defend warships at sea from advanced cruise missiles, swarms of small attack boats, electromagnetic railguns, and other future maritime threats.

Scientists in the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, Va., are awarding research contracts to the Raytheon Co. Integrated Defense Systems segment in Tewksbury, Mass., and to the Boeing Co. Directed Energy Systems segment in West Hills, Calif., to develop 100-kilowatt military laser weapon prototypes that create scalable designs eventually able to move up to megawatt-class military laser weapons.

ONR is awarding a $6.9 million contract each to Raytheon and Boeing. Under the contracts, engineers at both companies will design 100-kilowatt free electronic laser prototypes. The systems will demonstrate how to scale up the laser physics and engineering eventually to megawatt-class laser weapons able to defend surface ships against hyper-velocity cruise missiles and other advanced maritime threats.

Raytheon and Boeing scientists will begin work from existing 10-kilowatt 1.6-micron near-infrared weapons-class free electron lasers that operate in the 1.6 micron wavelength, potentially with IR viewer technology. Engineers at Raytheon and Boeing will develop portable 100-kilowatt laser weapons for installation on a barge for testing and to collect data on maritime atmospheric propagation and killing power in the open ocean.

The idea, ultimately, is to develop both the technology and know-how necessary to build megawatt-power free electron laser weapons capable of providing ultra-precise, speed-of-light capability and unlimited magazine depth for ship defense.

“This contract award is significant because it will be a cornerstone of the Navy’s plan to incorporate directed energy systems into its future all-electric ship architecture,” says Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems.

For additional information, visit the Office of Naval Research online at www.onr.navy.mil, Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems at www.raytheon.com, or Boeing Directed Energy Systems at www.boeing.com.


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