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Report to Congress on U.S. Navy Lasers, Railgun and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile

The following is the May 18, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the Report:

The Navy is developing three new ship-based weapons that could improve the ability of Navy surface ships to defend themselves against missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and surface craft: the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP), previously known as the hypervelocity projectile (HVP).

The Navy refers to the initial (i.e., Increment 1) version of SNLWS as HELIOS, an acronym meaning high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance. EMRG could additionally provide the Navy with a new naval surface fire support (NSFS) weapon for attacking land targets in support of Marines or other friendly ground forces ashore. The Department of Defense is exploring the potential for using GLGP across multiple U.S. military services. Anyone of these three new weapons, if successfully developed and deployed, might be regarded as a “game changer” for defending Navy surface ships against enemy missiles and UAVs. If two or three of them are successfully developed and deployed, the result might be considered not just a game changer, but a revolution. Rarely has the Navy had so many potential new types of surface-ship air-defense weapons simultaneously available for development and potential deployment.

Although the Navy in recent years has made considerable progress in developing technologies for these new weapons, a number of significant development challenges remain. Overcoming these challenges will require additional development work, and ultimate success in overcoming them is not guaranteed.

The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s funding requests and proposed acquisition strategies for these three potential new weapons. Potential oversight questions for Congress include the following:

  • Using currently available air-defense weapons, how well could Navy surface
    ships defend themselves in a combat scenario against an adversary such as China
    that has or could have large numbers of missiles and UAVs? How would this
    situation change if Navy surface ships in coming years were equipped with
    SNLWS, EMRG, GLGP, or some combination of these systems?
  • How significant are the remaining development challenges for SNLWS, EMRG,
    and GLGP? Are current schedules for developing SNLWS, EMRG, and GLGP
    appropriate in relation to remaining development challenges and projected
    improvements in enemy missiles and UAVs?
  • When does the Navy anticipate issuing roadmaps detailing its plans for procuring
    and installing production versions of SNLWS, EMRG, and GLGP on specific
    Navy ships by specific dates?
  • Will the kinds of surface ships that the Navy plans to procure in coming years
    have sufficient space, weight, electrical power, and cooling capability to take full
    advantage of SNLWS and EMRG? What changes, if any, would need to be made
    in Navy plans for procuring large surface combatants (i.e., destroyers and
    cruisers) or other Navy ships to take full advantage of SNLWS and EMRGs?
  • Given the Navy’s interest in HPV, how committed is the Navy to completing the
    development of EMRG and eventually deploying EMRGs on Navy ships?
  • Are the funding line items for SNLWS, EMRG, and GLDP sufficiently visible
    for supporting congressional oversight?

via fas.org

  • Duane

    A lot of progress has been made on all three weapons types in just the last year.

    Shootdowns of medium sized UAS were demo’d last year using a 30 kw LM laser. Scaling up will continue to at least the 150-300 kw size, and developers are now talking openly of MW scale lasers that could defeat incoming ASCMs and ASBMs.

    The powerplant on the AB Flight IIIs has been upped in capacity and voltage to support EM weapons. The DDG-1000s already have the power for either or both of lasers and railguns.

    Just last month General Dynamics announced that they and the Dahlgren Center exceeded their target 1,000+ shot barrel life (at this time last year they were at 400+shots) and now are focusing on ramping energy up from 10 MJ to 32 MJ to get range up to 100+nm.

    And the work done on rail gun projectiles has already been leveraged into the new longer ranged guided high velocity shells that may be either chemically propelled, or a combo of chemical and EM (the Army just inked a contract last month with GD to develop an Army hybrid gun).

    We’re starting to make big progress and we need to keep pushing. This may be the only means to preserve a surface fleet in the mid 21st century, as Russia and China already have the tech and the capacity to overwhelm our CSGs with massive salvos of cheap ASCMs.

    • D. Jones

      When will the LCS have laser & railgun modules?

      • Duane

        I don’t know the amount of excess electrical power generation on the LCS. A modest laser could be integrated, perhaps with an additional power generator and capacitor bank module. The laser weapon itself is not large or heavy. The Army is working now to put lasers on tanks, and the 30kw laser developed by LM fits on a truck, so should be compatible even with small ships.

        Regarding railguns, they require far more power and energy storage than even the largest lasers. But that is for the current baseline 32 MJ gun firing 155 mm projectiles. That baseline was selected as an alternate gun system to the existing 155mm long range guns on the Zumwalt class, which was purpose designed to be the Navy’s first rail gun ship. But it should also be practical to scale down to say a 10MJ/105mm projectile with shorter range, say up to 50 nm. Such an installation could be useful for not only own ship’s air and missile defense, but also to allow LCS to provide area air and missile defense.

        A scaled down version of the railgun will be a second priority after the Zums, CVNs, and Flight III ABs get the bigger guns first.

        • I’m finding it interesting that all the railgun effort is going towards ~155mm guns. It seems that 20-76mm weapons would be a lot easier to develop and still very useful.

          • Duane

            I think the emphasis on 155mm was because the only ship we had with the excess electrical power built in for railguns was the Zumwalt class, which was purposed for long range fires and already was fitted for 155s.

            The only other ship class with that amount of power is the Ford CVN, which is also likely to get railguns when they are ready for deployment.

    • g2mil

      Railgun is a big fraud because 1) it is not efficient at long range bombardment, and 2) the rails do wear very fast, seriously limiting the barrel life:

      www. g2mil. com/rail_gun_fraud.htm

      • Duane

        No fraud at all. The barrel life issue is resolved … General Dynamics announced last month that they and the Dahlgren SuW Center achieved the objective of 1,000+ shot barrel life (Dahlgren announced last July that they expected to achieve that milestone within a year … which the they did).

        As for your claim of no longe range efficiency, that is a meaningless statement. The range is the range. It already fires at least 10 rounds per minute. For very long range shots, high explosive rounds will be used (yes … HEX works on railgun munitions). For shorter range shots, kinetic HTK works fine.

        For air and missile defense we can use either kinetic HTK or frag warheads.

        • g2mil

          1) General Dynamics is not involved into railgun project at all,
          2) there is no independent confirmation of 1,000+ shot barrel life other than usual marketing hype from contractors,
          3) kinetic rounds at long ranges (50-100 nm) does not deliver enough energy because of air drag losses
          4) the HE rounds have not been tested yet in a railgun, and the amount of HE inside the round will not exceed two pounds anyway – which makes it just very expensive mortar rounds

          • Duane

            Uhhh no. GD is the railgun contractor for Dahlgren. And Dahlgren reported last July that they and GD had already gone 400+ shots per barrel and said they would exceed 1,000+ shots within one year from last July. GD is simply reporting fact. Their evident success in the naval railgun was what prompted the Army to award them a new contract to develop a hybrid railgun. The Army is all over it due to the success of the naval railgun.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            HE rounds for railguns is pure theory at this point. For starters, kinetic energy is the means for doing damage by any such round. Also, HE defeats the selling point for the safety features of railguns, i.e., fewer things that can go “Boom” on a ship if they are hit. Keeping such a massive surge of electricity from setting off the explosives is a major technological hurdle to overcome. They don’t even have the basic ‘model’ working yet. The ability to throw HE rounds a long way is an attractive capability to have. But the railgun project is nowhere near being able to embrace that yet, if ever at all.

          • g2mil

            You have no idea what you’re talking about. GD is a contractor for building Zumwalt at Bath Iron, not railgun.
            The continuing hype about 1,000+ shots is just wishy-washy promises. There is also no evidence of railgun capable to fire ten shots in a minute

          • Duane

            No – it is you who does not know what you are talking about. Clearly.

            GD does lots of things, being one of the largest and most diverse defense contractors in the world. Railgun development for the Dahlgren Center, and now also for the US Army, is one of their areas of development.

          • g2mil

            Stop talking nonsense.
            BAE, not GD, is a contractor for Dahlgren, and GA (General Atomic) recently got a contract with ARDEC.

    • .Hugo.

      but china has railguns too and even better lasers now (not even to mention the hypersonic weapons), so why not consider making peace with china more instead of confronting/containing it?

      • Duane

        China has a mock up of a rail gun mounted on a ship. That does not mean they have a functioning, capable weapon. China is a closed society and does not permit critical media reports on any of their defense systems, as we do here in the US.

        China is infamous for stealing technologies and IP, but there is a vast difference between building a mockup of a weapon and then going through years of expensive development work, failures followed by redesign, testing, and certification.

        • .Hugo.

          sure, let’s just call it a mock up to make yourself feel better. 🙂
          and just don’t see how china has failed in its rail gun and laser weapon development, especially the latter.

          • slender man

            He didn’t even talk about laser weapon but the rail gun where there is zero proof it works .

          • .Hugo.

            so are you saying china has not stolen laser technology and that’s why it should not be mentioned? that’s very good to know. 🙂
            and you can keep believing that china’s rail gun doesn’t work, when china has almost never revealed any weapon test but the nuclear weapons (those you have to show as a warning to the rival states).

          • slender man

            Yeah we don’t even know if there nukes work .

          • .Hugo.

            of course they do, that’s why the u.s. has never thought of invading china again. 🙂

          • The Rook Matt

            We never invaded China, you idjit. China invaded Vietnam, Tibet, Russia, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and India. You guys need to stop making enemies. We just want to make awesome weapons here in the USA, China wants to scare people with them.

          • .Hugo.

            quite wrong.
            the u.s. invaded china in 1900,and the u.s. did cross the chinese border and bombed chinese border towns and facilities near north korea during the korean war. the u.s. has also recruited tibetan terrorists to infiltrate china in the 1960s.
            china counterattacked in korea, vietnam, russia (chinese side) when being invaded. see how the border was negotiated with these countries after the counterattacks?
            tibet has been a chinese territory since the 11th century, there was no such thing as invasion. who has recognized an independent tibet after all? not even the u.s. has done that.
            modern china announced its maritime border in 1947, and no country, including the u.s., has protested. the u.s .has even seek the roc government’s advice on sovereignty arrangement and permission to conduct rescue and survey missions in the chinese scs territory.
            it’s the u.s. making enemies all over the world, to a point where nyc was attacked. 🙂

    • The Rook Matt

      Forgive me if this sounds like science fiction, but perhaps spacex should expand into the military industrial complex by using falcon 9 rockets as a rapid response force platform. These reusable rockets would be able to put troops into the air at a fairly inexpensive price, anywhere on the planet in an hour or less. The falcon 9’s crew vehicle might be able to allow a small squad of soldiers in highly protected advanced armor to descend quickly and safely to a target. In support, a small kinetic bombardment platform would give the crew good capabilities to defend against a sizable attack by enemy forces.
      Being able to put troops anywhere on the planet might make controlling the seas less relevant, and the technologies such a endeavor would require might speed up the civilian sector as well.

  • Bobchadfield

    Question: At what KW/GW energy output does a laser go from burning a hole in a target, to punching a hole in a target? I’ve read that min level is 40kw. Also, anyone aware of a combined laser/maser weapon? Perhaps a maser-radar combo is how our latest fighters can fry the electronics of target aircraft. Phased Array, electronically scanned radar IMO could specifically use a maser, that can “point&shoot” at many targets very quickly. Comments welcome.

    • The Rook Matt

      It can be done at any KW/GW, the effectiveness curve is mostly determined by distance. A megawatt laser has nearly the same effective range as a kilowatt laser due to atmospheric disturbance, but a megawatt laser can make much more use of its range due to its power. A megawatt laser would only need a few seconds to punch a hold in good armor while a kilowatt laser would need a few more to punch through ordinary protection.

      • Bobchadfield

        It can be done regardless of any amount of energy delivered to a target? So, my laser pointer, need only emit “more juice” to do, what? (Such pointers, if the light hits a person’s optic nerve in any or both eyes, the damage can be “total” as in being blinded.) The amount of “energy delivered to target? A few mw’s. Distance is an absolute qualifier w/it comes to kinetic projectiles, be it a bullet, or rail gun weapon. The momentum (leathliy) of any projectile depends much more on speed at impact to target, then its mass.
        Energy weapons follow “rules” that are specific to how they work. And they work well when w/understand and can manipulate those aspects of what we know they can do, knowing what we want them to do, and “fine tuning” them to do precisely (as much as possible) what we want them to do. Fine tuning indeed…

        As for lasers in the “MW or even GW” range? Way above any previous of my pay grades
        . A lasers “energy value” is rated on it’s energy output, not how much juice is put into it. That’s fine . What’s “good armor”,? A lasers “range” is do to its “power”? Um, well, I disagree. Back in the early days of radar, one way to “burn threw jamming” or to “jam” any one trying to do that same thing to you, was to crank up the “noise” associated w/ what communication’s one does not want to play with., let alone politely.

        A last point (hopefully, because I’m tired) is a comment that connects the specificity of communications, and its “connection” to an energy weapon. Ever notice if your in a large auditorium, banquet hall, or sports stadium when people are “energetically” engaged in conversation w/1or more people (This is not an example of someone talking “at” other people, but talking w/them.) Yet through all this decibel shattering ballistic depleted armor, you can still understand what one person is saying to you, and you to them. What does this has to do w/energy weapons? Something, Thanks for your post, hope to pontificate again in the am.

  • old guy

    The principle (started by my people and DNA in 1975) used in the Rail gun makes a great aircraft and missile launcher, but a lousy gun. Lasers are better for speed and Electro-Thermal=Chemical systems are much better, for adaptability and flexibility.