Marine sends message to Iran and China with high-energy laser test in Gulf of Aden

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A press release from 5th Fleet Public Affairs (NAVCENT) provided a dry report of the USS Portland’s tests with a high-energy laser weapon system while underway in the Gulf of Aden;

During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser – Tech Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) Mark 2 MOD 0 successfully battled a static surface training target aboard Portland. Portland previously tested the LWSD in May 2020 when it successfully disabled a small unmanned aerial vehicle system while it was operating in the Pacific Ocean.

The Office of Naval Research selected Portland to host laser weapons technology in 2018. The LWSD is considered to be the successor to the next generation laser weapon system (LaWS), which is located on the advance base USS Ponce (AFSB (I) -15). Tried for three years while serving in the Middle East.

The geographical, climatic and strategic importance of the region offer a unique environment for technological innovations. The area of ​​operation of the 5th US Fleet includes the world’s largest permanent maritime partnership, the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. “

211214-N-VQ947-1041 Gulf of Aden (Dec. 14, 2021) – Sailors aboard the amphibious transport ship USS Portland (LPD 27) watch a demonstration of a high-energy laser weapon system on a static surface training target Dec. 14 while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser – Tech Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully attacked the training target. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kates)

High-energy lasers can defeat the speed advantage of Chinese, Russian and Iranian hypersonic missiles

The high-energy laser system (LWSD) has been in development for years and has seen incremental increases in performance and range in the course of testing and refinement of the system. The choice of the Gulf of Aden as a testing site should send a message to Iran and China about this emerging weapon system. Both potential opponents have announced that they will use hypersonic missiles to destroy aircraft carriers belonging to the US Navy. These hypersonic missiles rely on speeds up to Mach 5, wave skimming heights, and long range to reach their target before they can respond with missile defense. At Mach 5 speeds, the target has very little time to spot, sight, and shoot a missile or cannon projectiles into the air to intercept it.

Solid-state high-energy laser systems promise to be able to combat hypersonic missiles from a distance, as their directed beam of energy propagates at the speed of light compared to the much slower speed of missiles or even 20mm projectiles of the Raytheon-made Phalanx (CIWS). System on board ships.

This technology cannot easily be adapted for use at sea. The first system, tested on the USS Ponce in 2014, was only 30 kW, which meant the range was measured in meters as the laser’s power degrades rapidly with the range it projects at. The system now being tested on the USS Portland has 150 kW, which means it can project its thermal energy over miles. As this energy output increases, the range over which it can cause damage also increases. A laser in the megawatt range could theoretically halve an enemy ship in sight in a few seconds. Recently commissioned naval vessels, such as the USS Gerald Ford and Zumwalt-class frigates, can generate much more electricity than their predecessors. The USS Gerald Ford can produce two and a half times as much electricity as the Nimitz-class, and the Zumwalt-class produces 75MW of power compared to the US Navy DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which are roughly one-tenth the electrical output produce. High electrical output will be a very important factor in the assembly of radars and laser weapons that run entirely on electricity.

The lens of these lasers also presents some difficulties when used at sea. A single drop of water or an oily stain left by a handprint can damage or destroy the lens if the energy of the laser beam instantly overheats it. So the lens requires quite special handling.

Martyr Abu Mahdi cruise missiles with a range of 1000 kilometers will be delivered to the Navy in the near future. Photo: FARS news agency. Iranian state media

Every weapon has a countermeasure

But the message to China, Iran, Russia and other countries working on hypersonic missiles will be very clear. Their development of these missiles has forced the US to develop laser-based defense systems that can not only set hypersonic missiles on fire as they approach, but also surface targets and aircraft.

During World War II, when the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft against American ships continued to decline, they resorted to suicide tactics to improve their ratio of lost ships to ship hits per mission. What Japan invented in the kamikaze was the “intelligent bomb” we see in the world’s military today. The Japanese thought this would be a turning point for them in terms of sinking Allied ships. The US answer was to simply increase the range, speed, shell strength, and volume of their anti-aircraft fire. As a result, on a number of sorties per hit, kamikaze attacks were no more effective than they were when their best pilots and planes were still alive in 1942, but they lost all the pilots and planes they sent on these missions during the anti-aircraft guns of the US Navy on board their ships would fire again on the next attack.

The point here is that the US is able to rapidly develop countermeasures against weapons that adversaries have spent decades trying to develop at great expense. You may have invested billions in hypersonic missiles only to see that the American response has been to develop a whole new class of laser weapons that threatens not only their missiles but also their ships and planes.

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