Home » Aviation » Navy, MDA Experimenting With Laser Prototypes For Surface Warfare, Ballistic Missile Defense


Navy, MDA Experimenting With Laser Prototypes For Surface Warfare, Ballistic Missile Defense

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

The Navy and Missile Defense Agency are leveraging prototyping programs to incrementally pursue complex ideas such as a laser weapon integrated into the Aegis Combat System and a high-power laser for boost-phase kill in missile defense, officials said today at the 2017 Directed Energy Summit.

This ability to learn through prototypes and experiments has always been resident in the MDA but is new for the Navy. The Navy recently created a Surface Navy Laser Weapon System program as its very first Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Demonstration (RPED) project, which allows the service to put new technologies in the field, learn lessons early to reduce risk, and decide whether and how to proceed before spending too much money, Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (OPNAV N9), said at the summit, cohosted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Normally, reducing risk involves awarding a contract to “a traditional provider of defense systems” and spending a lot of time and money on development. With RPED, Manazir said the Navy is pursuing multiple lines of effort under the umbrella of the Surface Navy Laser Weapons System program: researchers are looking at improving the laser itself through increased power, increased beam quality and the ability to “modularize,” and at the same time learning how to integrate laser weapons available today into the Aegis Combat Systems.

“The thing I’m interested in is the ability to use our folks to figure out how to integrate this stuff into our current weapons systems,” Manazir said.
“There are systems out there right now at various power levels that are just stand-alone. We know that. What we’d like to do is be able to integrate it so that when you have an effect in competition, in war, in a maritime environment, you know how to put those together with the kinetic systems we already have in the field.”

“In this increasing world of digitization, and information’s the coin of the realm, moving data around the battlespace is going to be the way you beat the other guy. You’re going to have to be able to use non-kinetic weapons, you’re going to have to be able to use the information space, to overwhelm the adversary. But you’re also going to have to use kinetic weapons,” he continued.
“And so we do want to reduce the cost-curve, we do know that a deep energy magazine where you have constant shots of directed energy can take the place of multimillion dollar missiles. … There’s a place for both (kinetic and energy weapons), and you’ve got to figure out how to put them together.”

As the Navy expands its use of its new prototyping and rapid acquisition authorities, opportunities to work with MDA – which was established with special authorities to rapidly field new capabilities – on areas of common interest. For example, Manazir said during the event that “I’m enthusiastic about the ideas that are out there about how you take a package and scale it in order to fit into any application, whether it’s seaborne, truck-borne or airborne.” MDA Deputy Director Rear Adm. Jon Hill agrees.

“For cutting-edge technologies, like [directed energy], we can synergize on resolving specific risk areas by collaborating on prototyping efforts. For areas of common interest, like power scaling, we are conducting ‘technical exchanges’ right now to determine how we can assist each other,” Hill told USNI News after speaking at the Directed Energy Summit.
“Our expected result is lift in affordability, risk reduction, industry investment alignment, and most importantly, getting capability into the hands of our warfighters faster.”

MDA’s current interest in directed energy would be putting a boost-phase kill capability on an unmanned aerial vehicle that could provide persistent missile defense capability from high altitudes. The technical challenges to achieving that are many, but MDA’s incremental approach has already yielded some important lessons learned.

“What we really need is an air vehicle that is carrying a precision tracker that can track the target, understand what it’s doing in that boost and ascent phase, move that data to the kill laser, and then we lase it, and we’ve got to be on it with high beam quality and very stable beam so we can actually accumulate the energy to take it out. That’s the game that we’re in at the Missile Defense Agency,” Hill said during his presentation. To achieve that, “we want really high power so we have standoff range, so we don’t always have to be directly over enemy territory in order to take out a boosting missile. We want to be light so we can fit on an air vehicle. And we want to be able to control our beam.”

MDA learned lessons on developing a high-power laser during the Airborne Laser Test Bed and has more recently moved on to experimenting with using UAVs in missile defense events and putting smaller lasers on UAVs. Through prototyping and experimentation, MDA can tackle all these technology areas concurrently instead of creating a massive program of record that has to work through them all in a higher-cost and lengthier-timeline environment.

“We’ve been flying drones and capturing target tracks for years. We take them out, we do stereo tracks – and, in fact, during one of our [Standard Missile-3] tests we went out and did a stereo track,” Hill said.
“And we were operating at mid-altitude, so we weren’t way up like where we want to be eventually; we were in very close, we didn’t have the standoff distance we want; but we did prove to ourselves that we can go off and get a fire control-quality track, send it to a weapon system, and go lay ordnance on target. That’s pretty big. Is it the final solution? Is it what we want? Are we up high with the standoff distance with the high power we want? No, we’re not there. … But we learned a lot from it and it kind of contributes” to determining the next technology hurdles to tackle.

MDA is encouraging industry to innovate in the UAV design itself – while there are many current designs on the market, MDA needs an aircraft with great endurance, and one that can operate in the stratosphere. This will be included in an upcoming demonstration with three companies that touches on power, beam quality and the feasibility of operating a laser kill system from a UAV.

In the near term, Hill said MDA would also be pursuing advances in passive target acquisition, active track and handover, and beam stability at operational ranges, and exploring how the laser beam moves at high altitudes.

  • RDF

    So hi power means we need a ship to bring the power to the laser. Now all we need is to get the ship close enough to the launch point to lase the boost phase. So, we got all the possible and already known stuff identified. Now we just need to make the ship impervious, and make it fly. sorry, sarcy on thursday morning. Who wins the maneuvering contest between a mobile icbm vehicle and a ship ? other uses are interesting enough. pirates wont care for it. Iranian Boston Whalers will melt..

    • old guy

      The Navy has finally recognized the threat of small, swarm boats and is rushing to develop weapons and tactics to counter them.

      • J_kies

        The easy way to counter boat swarms is the application of a large FAE weapon at the leading boat. Any survivors will be ‘discouraged’ from pursing the tactic as they are also likely casualties.

        • old guy

          Not so for 2 reasons. First, these people are kamikaze. Second, A multi-boat chaotic array is a tough. The best is a 20 to 40 MM H.E. round from a battery or a helo.

          • J_kies

            Sorry I think you got the wrong Persians. These guys don’t strap suicide belts on while gearing up to go to sea. The IRG Navy is putzing around with small boat tactics as a means to cover up their astounding conventional weaknesses. The swarm approach seems hard but a significant FAE airburst at the leading boat will kill the closest, deafen the nearby, disrupt their planned maneuvers and pretty much put the fear of Allah into them as a bigger device will put up a nice ‘mushroom cloud’ of convection and lead them to fear that we are using nukes.

          • Brumhilde

            Do you always act like a clown, or is it just when you have no idea what you are talking about?

  • old guy

    The nice thing, in a targeting sense, about ballistic missiles is that at the apogee they are sitting ducks. Once you determine launch point (easy with ground launch ) and initial velocity a tracker computation will give you the exact point. This is the big advantage of submarine launch. A full maneuvering missile is much more complicated, but I know of none. If the missile has a variable thrust program (like with strap-ons), the variance is, also, easily determined. The idea is to hit just before the MIRV phase is initiated.

    • tteng

      “.. ballistic missiles is that at the apogee they are sitting ducks. ”

      What do you mean by ‘sitting ducks’? (like, almost constant velocity?)

      If you google ” Trajectory Planning for Re Entry Maneuverable Ballistic Missiles “, there was this article on ASBM, and on pg.14 there is this simulation result of the missile velocity at all altitude. At its apogee (~190km), the missile is moving at about 3.6 km/sec with slight change of acceleration.

      • old guy

        At the apogee the VERTICAL velocity is ZERO. That is what makes it a sitting duck.

        • J_kies

          Its a 3 space vector and one velocity component changes sign. I guess the rest of us are thinking about water-fowl sitting on the pond.

          • tteng

            How about shooting from top; a network of nuke-powered killer beam SAT that travel more or less in the same xy vector as the missiles. If the SAT can match both xy velocity at the same instant when missile’s z velocity is zero- that will be a truly sitting duck scenario (and as positional close as possible, too)

          • J_kies

            How about people stop sourcing their military systems ideas from ‘graphic novels’ (comic books) and work with constraints from physics, engineering and economics?

          • tteng

            Well, at least space is pristine compare to salt spray. The relative velocity between the target and shooter can be minimized. The distance between the target and shooter can be minimized. I mean, we already shown the capability of direct intercept with KKV..so getting close shouldn’t be an issue. As for power source, if nuke engine is not possible/feasible, how about lithium batteries packs (I mean, enough of them can drive a E-car or submarine). I’m not an EE/Physicist, so you’ll have to tell me..As for expense, a Ford-class carrier is about 15-20B per. How much to build/launch a laser-SAT (say, 200M?), so lop off a Ford, you can get 100 SAT (and get SpaceX involved for launch duty..) I mean, the US annual defense budget is 650B, that’s a lot of money.

            Lastly, let me just ask you a binary question: is there any practical & theoretical show-stopper(s) that can prevent this from happening, when compare to proposed seaborne laser shooting down missiles from 1000 km away?

          • J_kies

            I will take that as a serious question; I suggest you Google “National Academy of Science” and “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense”. You can download the full NAS/NRC report as a PDF for free. That report is the result of 2 years of fact finding and analysis by experts with full access to intelligence and classified program content.

            One item that the NAS/NRC debunks totally is the entire topic of lasers for boost phase missile defense.

          • tteng

            Thanks for the read.

            The article debunked ABL, yet it didn’t say much about Space Based Laser…However, there is couple hints about Space Based Interceptor which is quite interesting..

            ” One way to avoid the geographic constraints suffered by surface-based interceptors is to base them in space, on platforms that carry one or several such interceptors. The enemy may thereby be denied all locations within the latitudes of the orbits. This is the attractive feature of space-based interceptors (SBIs).
            At this time there is no program of record within MDA for SBIs…. ”

            ” The SBI platforms would be placed in multiple rings of satellites, with multiple
            satellites per ring..”

            Now, if I may ride that a little…

            1. It seems Space Interceptor has certain advantages over surface based ones, yet the article concluded by ‘At this time…no program of record’, which left me possible alternative interpretation of what that sentence meant.

            2. To follow up on 1 and stretch out the imagination a little- a SBI platform shoots a (or multiple) maneuverable dart(s)..Now, why can’t it be shooting laser instead? The whole optics can be fixed, and just maneuver the ‘gun platform’ itself (much like SAT maneuver)

            3. ABL is taking tangential shot from 1000-1500 km away, SBL can be much closer like orbiting SATs (or the size of international space station).

          • J_kies

            Space is really big – if you want to talk insane numbers of platforms; to achieve such closeness you are talking kinematic access with nearly equivalent divert as interceptors

            Low/dubious capabilities with large numbers and insane costs is a really excellent way to destroy the US via economic suicide.

          • RDF

            There’s a clever idea. Write that one down.

          • RDF

            That has been worked. Accuracy needed on the micro-radian level. More accuracy than can be had just from solar heating cooling on the system components. Difficult.

          • tteng

            I don’t know about past space laser experiment; but just based on kinetic interceptor test, I think a space based laser (SBL)’s accuracy requirement should be looser than what’s required of an ABL (which has to shoot from 1000 km away). If we can maneuver a KKV to intercept (or even near-miss) a warhead, then I don’t see why a laser platform (though be much larger), out a network of them, can’t be maneuver close enough for shot, during missile’s boost to mid-course phase.

          • J_kies

            SBL stability requirements were in nano-radians (y x 10E-9 rad). If you orbited materials and built a large number the economics kills you long before you reach useful capabilities.

          • tteng

            Complete guess on my part..

            If I use earth circumference of 46000 km (1000 km above earth surface), and ran a train of SBLs, 500 km apart (46000/500 = 92, make it 100). At $200M-$300M a piece, an orbit worth of SBL will cost $20-30B.

            Assuming all ICBM eventually converge to certain targets in CONTUS (not originated from Iran), if I ran two trains (at 300km and 800km height) above the west coast, two trains above the east coast, and two trains above mid-USA; that’s 6 trains at $120-180B. Yea, it is expensive.

          • J_kies

            Two factors make it worse yet;
            1) pretty certain the platform cost is low by a factor of 10 or more (and launch costs need to be added).
            2) Walker orbits experience precession and you need significantly more ‘trains’ to achieve that level of coverage at all times; its closer to talk to 50 planes than 3 so consider the unhappy fact of ~ 5000 Laser battle stations.

          • tteng

            I googled up ABL, and it was about 1.5B per station (including 747 at 150M). ABL’s total mass, of 6 modules, is about 18000kg. At $3000/kg launch cost, per SpaceX, the launch cost is about 50M per station. So, a station is about (1500-150+50)M= 1.4B.

            At 5000 stations, that’s $7T for deployment, not including operating cost.

            So, between 5T-10T.

  • J_kies

    So a pay to play marketing forum to hype lasers now becomes ‘news’. Sorry I can’t get excited given that the USN R&D has been coopted by people that believe a system that is hopelessly dependent on pristine laboratory style environments is somehow suitable for removing a real weapon off our warships.

    All laser weapons are limited to fair weather only; all laser weapons are subject to threat counters that arise in cookery and automotive technology and all of them are destroyed by applied salt spray. The US has clearly wasted the over $10Billion spent towards laser weapons since 1984 as these issues are not addressed by any of the discussions listed.

    • tteng

      “..counters that arise in cookery and automotive technology”

      You’ve mentioned this many times whenever the topic of laser weapon came up. I assume it is public knowledge; if so, where can I look it up?

      • Donald Carey

        I think he is referring to Smoke (his wife in the kitchen?), and mirrors.

      • J_kies

        CW lasers are essentially radiant heat – consider what products are applied commercially to protect automotive components from radiant heat and what modern cookware does.

    • Uncle Mike

      Or maybe you just aren’t cleared for the discussion.

      • J_kies

        Rrright – are you one of the kids on the short bus that advocates classifying the periodic table or just some jerk that believes that stuff in SAPs is cool instead of 90% of SAPs being about vulnerabilities?

        • Uncle Mike

          I’m the kind who doesn’t assume he knows everything. You should try it sometime, snowflake.

          • J_kies

            Neat; so I should defer to marketing people with zero design, development or T&E experience on the engineering of said items because some guy wants to assert that some classified topic ‘might’ invalidate all my professional experience in this and closely related topics?

            Lasers are a serious threat to the US Navy; they will cost us dearly by wasting R&D money that should be applied to improved gunnery, low cost missile initiatives, better ISR and better fire control. Laser waste costs the offensive and defensive capabilities by denying useful work the money needed to succeed.

          • old guy

            Very good analysis, but, I submit, the wrong objective. If you change it from destroy to deflect, the power requirement drops by an order of magnitude and achieves the same purpose. We had the same problem with the “Full House”(anti-[anti-missile- missile] missile) to be carried by a missile. It was solved when we changed the objective to deflect.

          • J_kies

            Two issues –
            ‘Deflecting’ implies that the place the missile would go was less threatening than the place it would land naturally. PATRIOT claimed a successful deflection in the Gulf War that the Pennsylvania National Guard would not agree to having been a mission success.

            If the threat is an inbound supersonic missile coming directly at the ship; a laser has no ‘deflection’ means against a radar seeker if I cannot fail the radome.

            Did you note the disconnect between power levels of the ABL around a megawatt and the ideal case needing of tens of megawatts for the prototype mission?

          • old guy

            I agree if we are speaking of bS/S guided missiles. NOT the right defense. Most effective, we tested in the late ’70s was the WOW (wall of water). stopped them 7 out of 7 tests. Here, I thought that they were back on the rail gun kick. Musta’ missed it.

          • RDF

            Joke right? Anti thing.

          • old guy

            Sorry that it took so long to get back to you, but I am 90 and have to get things reassembled, occasionally. It was not a joke. The Full house was a missile carried on another to defend it against an anti-missile, missile. Get it? 2 antis and 3 missiles. Hence a full house.

          • RDF

            sounds like fireworks. thanks for the reply.

          • old guy

            You did not consider exo-atmosphere. No clouds, moisture or attenuation.

          • J_kies

            When we discuss the application of lasers to protect the space Navy then that observation will be addressed. As the current Naval applications considered are all surface based, the discussion applies.

  • Curtis Conway

    The integration of Laser Weapons with the Aegis Weapons System is a natural and logical fit, though it will provide some challenges. Photons are faster than missiles and direction must be thoroughly tested. It is my belief that a secondary Passive detection, track, and direction system for each laser should always be available as a casualty mode so each laser can be operated independently if necessary. In fact a Aegis-like combat system using Passive detection, tracking, and direction systems should be on our new frigate. There are several systems available today that can provide these functions in the new combat system.

  • J_kies

    Gads – I can’t stand the ludicrous BS – I read the Janes reporting of the same briefing and the toxic incompetence of the concept espoused has to be countered.

    Consider the following scaling of the MDA problem statement:
    They are talking fiber-lasers and DPALs, both are near to 1um – choose 1um
    They are talking ‘standoff’ against ICBMs, – choose 1000km
    Dr Ashton Carter published a lethality threshold against ICBMs in 1984, use it 10KJ/cm^2
    Given that the ABL beam director weighed 5 tons at 1.8m, choose a 1m aperture

    The resultant ideal spot size from diffraction only is 46,759 cm^2, a real beam will never be this good
    Multiplying by 10KJ/cm^2 yields a 467MJ deposition need, a 10 second dwell implies a 47 MW laser.
    Argue all you like; that’s more than a factor of 100x larger (and heavier) than the toy lasers they are hoping to demonstrate.

    • RDF

      I agree totally. I told them repeatedly to make the ship with the laser fly to the ICBM launch location. Dere ya go. The basic physics without tracking and jitter issues is daunting.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    According to the AW&ST there is a new requirement for the advanced engine to have 20% saving in the gas consumption as well “about” 100 MEGA W. of generated power.. (another of requirements is to be able to fit into the F-35 fuselage) I was reading comments bellow (excellent reading by the way..) all of you guys are 100% on the mark.. I can see the utility of the lasers only in terminal phase or the close proximity engagements.. for all of the below listed (valid) Lasers are the growing technology and proven technology in closer engagements like Israeli’s “Iron Beam” as well German, MBDA over the 100MW multi tube laser weapon. There is also an avenue to manage the energy flow by utilizing modern capacitors like “Skeleton” made advanced ultra-capacitors 10,000kW/kg with 60sec. discharge time to recharge 2-3 sec as opposed to 15 min recharge for military grade batteries. With million deep charge/discharge as opposed to similar cycle of few thousand for batteries. -40 to 50C operation range as opposed to lithium batteries of +5-50C. Could be used to feed lasers on high altitude / space environment with les moisture and dust particles to impede on performance as well for the utility of the direct-energy weapons.

    AW&ST July 19th 2016