U.S. Navy Amphib Shoots Down Drone With Laser Weapon Prototype

Video still courtesy USN

Published May 22, 2020 11:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

On May 16, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland disabled an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a prototype laser system, the Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0.

LWSD is a high-energy laser weapon system developed by the Office of Naval Research and installed on USS Portland for at-sea testing. The Navy says that it is the first system-level implementation of a high energy solid state laser at sea. 

The laser system was developed by Northrup Grumman, with ship integration and testing by Naval Surface Warfare Centers Dahlgren and Port Hueneme. USS Portland was selected as the testbed because her class has the available power and space margins required.
“By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs and small craft, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,” said Capt. Karrey Sanders, commanding officer of USS Portland. “The [LWSD] is a unique capability the Portland gets to test and operate for the Navy, while paving the way for future weapons systems. With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea.”

The U.S. Navy has been developing directed-energy weapons like lasers since the 1960s. Previous attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to develop a megawatt-class deuterium fluoride chemical laser (the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser, or MIRACL) were discontinued.

With the 150 kw-class LWSD, the Navy hopes to build upon its prior success with the 30 kw-class LaWS laser weapon system installed aboard USS Ponce. Like LaWS, the mission set for LWSD includes countering small boat threats, UAVs and material targets like adversary ISR systems.

In addition to accuracy, a high rate of fire and nonexistant magazine space requirements, solid state laser weapons offer a very low cost per "round." "For about the price of a gallon of diesel fuel per shot, we're offering the Navy a high-precision defensive approach that will protect not only its sailors, but also its wallet," said Guy Renard, program manager for directed energy at Northrop Grumman Aerospace at the time of the contract award.