Home » News & Analysis » Mabus: Adversaries Showing Interest in Directed Energy; Navy Needs to Move Faster


Mabus: Adversaries Showing Interest in Directed Energy; Navy Needs to Move Faster

Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS). US Navy Photo

Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS). US Navy Photo

This post has been updated to include additional comments from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and NAVSEA chief engineer Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller.

The Navy has already seen potential adversaries using directed energy against the fleet and therefore needs to push forward with its DE weapons development faster than the acquisition system has previously allowed, the Navy secretary said.

Speaking today at the Directed Energy Summit, hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Booz Allen Hamilton, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus made clear his service is not the only one pursuing directed energy weapons.

“Just two weeks ago, USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98) and her attached helicopter were repeatedly targeted by a laser from an Iranian-flagged merchant vessel, and last week 11 commercial airliners were targeted by lasers in the vicinity of a New Jersey airport,” he said in his prepared remarks.
“These are examples of how the world is getting faster and is changing exponentially—the world that is with, too often, the exception of the United States military.”

Mabus said during a question and answer session that given the advantages of directed energy, he’d expect that a lot of countries are working on DE weapons for offensive and defensive purposes. To avoid falling behind, Mabus urged quicker progress. He noted that the Navy built its first megawatt high energy laser – the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) – in the 1980s, but it took until 2012 to put a prototype laser on the flight deck of USS Dewey (DDG-105) and until 2014 to deploy the weapon for operational tests overseas on the interim Afloat Forward Staging Base USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf.

To do better now, “I think the main thing is to have a focus on this as a cohesive whole instead of a program here, a program there, stovepiped, one for surface, one for air, one for lasers, one for railguns, one for this, one for that.” Instead, he said, the Navy needs one group in charge of all DE to understand how each project fits in with the Navy’s overall needs.

To that end, Mabus said he would release a DE roadmap this fall that “charts our course for research, development, and fielding of high power radio frequency weapons, lasers, and directed energy countermeasures. And I will follow it up with my guidance to the Program Objective Memorandum for [Fiscal Year 2018], which, importantly, establishes a resource sponsor and a program of record.”

He said later that the roadmap would include DE investments for all domains – surface ships, aircraft, ground-based assets and more.

“This defined pursuit of directed energy technologies will broaden the range of tactical options for warfighters, reduce costs, decrease response times, and can create breakthroughs with commercial, non-military application for Americans in industries ranging from construction to medicine,” he said in his prepared remarks, adding as an example that if power storage for energy weapons – large batteries, essentially – could be applied to the commercial world, the Navy could see a great drop in cost.

Also meant to help quicken the pace of progress, the Office of Naval Research will take lessons learned from the Ponce to inform the Solid State Laser Technology Maturation program that aims to produce a 100-150 kilowatt laser prototype for at-sea testing in 2018, or sooner if possible. Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) chief engineer, said at the event that everything the Navy learned about rules of engagement and how to use LaWS in an operational environment would apply to larger laser weapons as well. Leveraging the operational knowledge Ponce gained will help the Navy field whatever comes out of the SSL-TM effort much more rapidly.

In the mean time, Mabus said the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) will continue its work in the Middle East after early success led officials to extend its deployment.

“The variable intensity of directed energy gives commanders the power to choose whether to deter, disable, or destroy all with one system,” Mabus said.
“The cost of a single laser ‘shot’ from our Laser Weapons System is less than one dollar, compared to hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars for current self-defense payloads.”

Beyond just the cost, LaWS has proven itself simpler to use for sailors trying to navigate the hectic Straits of Hormuz.

“Not only has that laser proven its ability to withstand the intense heat in the region and the maritime environment, it has proven its ability to defeat small boats and airborne targets. It only takes one sailor to operate and can also be used as a telescope,” he said.

 

Categories: News & Analysis, U.S. Navy
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.

  • J_kies

    Mr Mabus – I now understand what motivates the other lemmings to jump, their leader asserted that ‘others are doing it’. Lasers in stated applications are annoyances bordering on treaty violations if they are capable of blinding pilots. Actual weapons are far different things. Ashton Carter in his earlier career determined that laser weapons should be capable of depositing 10KJ/cm^2 on targets to assure lethality against trivial laser countermeasures. Nothing in discussion is within orders of magnitude of that lethality criteria and your staff is disloyal to you for having you state such things in public.

    • James Bowen

      The laser deployed on the PONCE is 30KJ/s. I do not know what the beam width is, but my guess is that is is comparable to 1 cm^2.

      • J_kies

        James – first order looks – If we assume the laser on the PONCE is ‘eyesafe’ then the wavelength is ~ 1.5 microns or longer. The aperture looks something less than a meter so lets say 60cm as a ‘guestimate’. If we assume ideal focus at target range (if the laser operates in a vacuum) the spot divergence will be determined by diffraction or 2.44 lamda / diameter. This ideal divergence is a bit over 6 micro-radians. At 100,000 cm (one km) the perfect spot would be ~ 0.3 cm^2 and the PONCE laser can drill holes in perfect conditions in a fraction of a second. At 3 km the spot is up to 2.6 cm^2 and its still good in a second. At 10 km the spot size is nearly 30 cm^2 and the laser isn’t going to cut it.

        In the real world; the beam out of the PONCE is a fraction of the 30KW due to coring and other non-ideal Strehl. The other ‘ideal’ non-vacuum loss terms that a laser suffers are from jitter (residual motion/imperfect tracking of the target over the dwell) and turbulence induced beam divergence. Any dust, spray, or droplets in the beam due to less than perfect weather adsorb energy and explode leading to micro-turbulent cells disrupting the beam.

        Since the PONCE does not address clear-air turbulence with adaptive optics the primary degradation will be turbulence induced beam divergence. Adding laser power will not increase the lethal range due to this innate divergence issue without adaptive optics.

        In perfect conditions you can kill objects to about 2-3km. I submit the outcome of firing a 30mm cannon at such objects with equivalent aiming is a lot more reliably lethal. Or considering it another way; a SEAL sniper on the PONCE with a Barrett is a more effective weapon against the same targets in all weather.

        • James Bowen

          I don’t think a SEAL sniper could destroy a drone or a small boat, which the laser on the PONCE did. I have not seen any technical details on this laser, but everything I read says that the system has thus far performed very well in tests. Also, where did you find out that the laser on the PONCE is a fraction of 30 KW? The 30mm cannon is a weapon system that has gone as far as it is going to go, and its ammunition is expended quickly. This laser has development potential, and a laser has an effectively bottomless magazine, something that could be very useful given the cruise missile threat we are looking at.

          • J_kies

            James; “where I found out” is that perfect optics with ideal Strehl ratio (unity) don’t occur in the real world so the aperture output is less than the gain media output of the lasers.

            I know your expectation that a SEAL sniper would be unable to address the LAWS demonstration targets with a 50Cal sniper rifle is very testable. Perhaps we pick a day with some light rain and run a side by side comparison?

          • James Bowen

            So what is the Strehl ratio for this laser?

            I’m all for that comparison.

          • J_kies

            Excellent question; I haven’t seen measurements but considering that the LAWS is rumored to be (google ‘LAWS beam director’) an incoherent beam combining of 6 separate industrial lasers with a Richey-Crietien beam director I would expect real Strehl values for that combination between 0.5 and 0.75.

            Incidentally; I am pretty sure that downing a ‘ScanEagle’ with a 50 Cal or punching out the RHIB engine are pretty trivial and the only question is the marksmanship of the SEAL firing the gun.

          • bobhope1

            There is no such thing as a bottomless magazine. The energy has to come from somewhere – and on a ship that may be fuel. So the magazine just has a different form. Perhaps if the ship was nuclear powered you could argue a bottomless magazine. I was amused, and saddened, to see a quoted comment from government official a while back that thousands of laser engagements were possible from a gallon of fuel – shear tripe for the unsuspecting public.

          • James Bowen

            I know that. That is why I said “effectively” bottomless. If a ship runs out of fuel it has even bigger problems.

            It is also important that ships equipped with directed energy weapons be nuclear powered for this reason.

        • bobhope1

          Firing a 30mm cannon, or even a 20mm cannon is more reliably lethal. After all, the cannon will function in rain, fog, smoke conditions, in which the laser will not. So you will still need the cannon, plus its magazine. So two weapons to do the same thing? Does that sound cost-beneficial to you?

          • J_kies

            I strongly agree – the lasers will not survive contact with a competent mission based AoA. No missions have been ID’ed that existing, fielded weapons aren’t already doing far better and the economics argument ($$ per shot) ignores the fact that lasers aren’t all-weather.

  • Mr. Speaker

    These weapons are great but if you can’t see what you’re shooting at they can’t do you any good.

    There is a facet of these “game-changing” systems that is not given it’s due and will evolve into a persistent, very expensive maintenance and logistic problem if not addressed. I’m talking about optics, specifically the electro-optic and infrared (EO/IR) sensors co-located with these weapons.

    In the 90’s the Navy introduced or rather borrowed the Army’s Mast Mounted Sights that were originally designed and installed on the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter. This was a stop-gap measure to address the mine threat in the Persian Gulf after incidents involving USS Samuel B Roberts, USS Princeton and USS Tripoli. Eventually the system was designated the AN/SSQ-119 Navy Mast Mounted Sight (NMMS) and during production renamed the Thermal Imaging Sensor System (TISS). With its suite of EO sensors, auto-tracking capability, and accurate stabilization, TISS demonstrated the ability to support other roles such as navigation and air defense. The first permanent installation was completed in 1998 aboard USS Bonhomme Richard. The last TISS as removed in 2005 with no planned upgrade or replacement for current ship classes despite the increasing need for surface ship 360 degree EO/IR situational awareness (SA) in RF denied environments, the proliferation of stealth technology, need to visually ID small craft/mine like objects, need to navigate safely at night, and the video capture of politically charged events.

    In parallel with TISS other EO/IR sensors appeared on surface combatants. These systems are exclusive to gun and point defense systems and acquisition guided primarily by the capabilities desired for the paired weapon system. The outfitting was usually accomplished from the results of limited market research performed by the platform prime contractor or combat systems integrator. This led to EO/IR sensor procurement greatly influenced by historical vendors and little opportunity for government technical authority to close surface EO/IR capability gaps or infuse actual Fleet needs into the selection process. The lack of surface EO/IR requirements and coordinated acquisition effort resulted in multiple acquisition and sustainment programs, a variety of shipboard configurations, little to no increase in sensor performance, differing safety characteristics, missed opportunities for Total Ownership Cost avoidance, no dedicated EO/IR SA and EO/IR Science and Technology programs that go unsupported or fail to transition to Fleet use.

    Current disparate EO/IR systems leave significant surveillance gaps in coverage surrounding the ship, possess unique expensive proprietary products (mechanical, electronic, electrical and human interfaces), and are not effectively integrated with the combat systems. However, the utilization of these sensors to provide an ad-hoc albeit limited SA capability (especially at night) is common practice in the Fleet. This increased usage has caused premature wear and tear on the sensors and weapons mounts resulting in decreased operational availability of not just the sensor but the co-located weapon as well. Since there are no shipboard EO/IR systems dedicated to 360 degree SA you inherently forfeit optical SA to the collocated weapon when the shooting starts.

    “Not only has that laser proven its ability to withstand the intense heat in the region and the maritime environment, it has proven its ability to defeat small boats and airborne targets. It only takes one sailor to operate and can also be used as a telescope,” – SECNAV Ray Mabus referring to the Navy Laser Weapon System (LaWS)

    As evidenced in this article and SECNAV’s comment it is reasonable to expect the shipboard laser weapon and Railgun EO/IR sensors to follow the historic acquisition path and be co-opted for SA thus maintaining status quo with the problems associated with current weapons associated EO/IR sensors.

    The solution for the U.S. Navy is a shipboard EO/IR 360 degree surveillance system dedicated to SA (Detect and ID out to the horizon as an objective). The funny thing is that Military Sealift Command is addressing their SA needs by being outfitted with very capable EO/IR sensors as we speak whereas the U.S. Coast Guard has been outfitted with them for almost two decades. And yes, most foreign navy’s utilize EO/IR sensors for dedicated SA.

    It must be frustrating for combatant CO’s to look over at the MSC units they’re unrepping with and see that they have better EO/IR SA capability than they do.

  • old guy

    Why is Mabus blabbing nonsense? doesn’t he know that he has reliable experts like CAPT(RETD) Al Skolnik who could give him the real information. Ash Carter knows abit, too.

  • Joel Weinbaum

    If Navy ships are still being equipped with saltwater wash down for NBC warfare, just turn the sprays on for directed energy attack. Boiling water does not melt ship structure. Rocket motors seem to be the greatest risk.

    • Mr. Speaker

      Wouldn’t that also reduce the effectiveness of your own DE weapons enshrouded by the spray?

      • Joel Weinbaum

        Maybe wiper blades on the lens! How do they beam a laser through a cloud. Maybe create a rocket that could emit a mist to protect itself at the very instant of being lit up. Must have something to do with wave length. Or make the ships out of polished aluminum with concave surfaces.

        • Secundius

          @ Joel Weinbaum.

          From past experience, ANYTHING “Shiny” is going to Stand Out More, NOT LESS…

    • Secundius

      @ Joel Weinbaum

      True Enough. But even a Crew in a Hot Ship’s is going to Feel the Heat at Some Point. And if your one of the Unlucky Ones in the Bowel of the Ship, It’ll feel like a Pressure Cooker…

    • bobhope1

      Correct and simple.

  • Secundius

    A Pulse 10-kilowatt “Fiber Laser” would be great. A complete system weighing just 650-pounds, could be mounted on a Navy Go-Fast. And STILL have a range in excess of 20-kilometers. You could reduce the weight Even More, if you Utilized a PTO from the Go-Fast’s propulsion system and a Tesla Lithium-Iron Polymer Storage Cell…

    • Mr. Speaker

      You might get 20km against an air target but the laser is still horizon limited against surface units. On a go-fast type platform you might get 6km against a surface bad guy. Also, stabilization becomes exponentially difficult in a maritime environment as you reduce platform size. Could you even achieve 6 axis stabilization to the extent of keeping a pencil beam on target at 6km while bouncing around like a bobber in a jacuzzi?

      • Secundius

        @ Mr. Speaker.

        Gyro-Stabilization would be a problem even with an Aerial Target. But a Mk. 5 Special Operations Craft, traveling at 65+ knots is going to be a little hard to spot on the Horizon. And “Human” Soft Targets would be Fair Game. You don’t have to Take Out the Ship, Too Take It Out of the Game. Just Simply Take Out the Crew, Instead. Same Results…

        • J_kies

          By that argument putting the laser on that impervious to threat boat is a waste of time.

          You believe the US should lead the world in blinding pilots violating treaties that we pioneered?

          • Secundius

            @ J_kies.

            The Weakest Link on ANY Boat or Ship, is going to be it’s Crew, the Electronics, it Radar. A Rapid Firing Pulse Fiber Laser, can cause A Lot of Damage on the Unsuspecting. You can’t Guard against a Threat, if you don’t know what the Threat is. So far we’ve (the US Navy) has been Attack at Least Twice, in the Black Sea. Even an Electronic Attack, is an ATTACK…

          • Secundius

            @ J_kies.

            Sir, the 1946-49 Nuremberg Accords. Clearly spells out NO Experimentation on Humans, the United States DIDN’T sign those Accords…

          • Secundius

            @ J_kies.

            Using “Dum Dum’s” or Jacketed Hollow-Points, is a Clear Violation of the Geneva Convention. And yet the US Army is Seriously considering Reintroducing them back into the US Army…

          • bobhope1

            Well, I imagine that is like torture – we lead the way in eliminating it, then when the going gets tough we reintroduce it. Then you cannot complain when we get hit in kind I suppose.

      • J_kies

        You’re starting from the surface without atmospheric turbulence sensing & compensation … ~ 2km is the maximal operative range against air targets in ideal conditions.

    • bobhope1

      You might get 2kms effective at 10kW system. At 20 kms no more than a light tan, unless of course these devices are not eye safe ( retinal transit ) and say around ~1um – in which case you will need to see your eye doctor ( not that he would be able to help you ).

  • Pingback: Military Officials Announce Plans for Directed Energy Weapons | In Compliance Magazine()

  • bobhope1

    Mabus asserts ‘the cost per ‘shot’ from our laser weaponry is of the order of a dollar per shot relative to 100,000s$ for current defense..’. Well yes, if you compare eggs to chickens – after all most of the engagements the lasers we are hearing about relate to point defense ( the lasers currently may be effective out to say 5kms ), which the 20mm Phalanx can probably cover at 5$ per round ( so we are not talking comparatively long range missiles – the egg versus the chicken ). Now that may sound still favourable, but remember you are still going to require the Phalanx for bad/inclement weather when the laser is useless, so does this ‘saving’ outweigh the no doubt millions of dollars of an additional system just sitting there?