Later this year, the UD Navy reports, the emerging High-Energy Laser with Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) will arm an Arleigh Burke Flight IIA DDG 51 destroyer, following additional land and ocean testing and assessments. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

They say, it could change naval warfare.

We all know what the bigs guns, of the USS Missouri could do.

Sittting offshore of Vietnam, This Iowa-class battleship with its nine huge 16-inch guns, could fire 2,700 pound projectiles 24 miles away.

The Viet Cong called it “silent death.” You would not hear it, until it hit. And then, it was pretty much over.

Well, this year the US Navy will be firing a high-energy laser weapon on one of its destroyers, which proponents say is a major step toward directed energy technology.

What exactly can it do?

“We are going to burn the boats, if you will, and move forward with this technology,” Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, head of the service’s surface warfare directorate, said during a recent industry summit in Washington, D.C.

The Navy’s current family of laser weapons consists of three distinct systems: the HELIOS; High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance, or ODIN; and the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort, according to a report on the service’s directed energy efforts compiled by the Congressional Research Service.

If all goes as planned, US Navy destroyers will be armed with new ship-fired lasers able to sense and incinerate enemy drones, low-flying aircraft and small boat attacks — all while firing at the speed of light.

Lasers have existed for many years, but the Navy is now adjusting emerging Tactics, Techniques and Procedures to how new high-powered, ship-fired lasers will change ship defenses …. and attack options.

Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Technical) Michael Green, from San Diego, stands watch in the combat information center aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77) in the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Elisha Smith)

Joe Ottaviano, Lockheed Martin business development director for advanced product solutions, said he has heard the adage that battlefield lasers always seem to be “one year away” from fielding, but asserted that this time is different, according to a report in National Defense.

HELIOS is now slated to be permanently deployed aboard a Flight IIA DDG Arleigh Burke destroyer and integrated with its Aegis combat system.

“We’re delivering a full-end system that actually brings defense capabilities to an area where there currently isn’t any and exceeds the capability I think we all had in our mind going forward,” Ottaviano said in a press briefing.

HELIOS is a 60-kilowatt solid-state laser capable of scalable effects, which can “dazzle” and blind sensors, but at high power it can “put a hole” through unmanned aerial vehicles, low flying aircraft, and in some cases, missiles, Ottaviano said.

Yes, folks. It can do damage.

Jason Wrigley, Lockheed’s business development director for naval combat and missile defense systems, said: “People have been talking about the promise and the possibility of laser weapon systems for decades. So it’s really exciting for us to finally have reached this milestone, delivering an integrated laser weapons system into the hands of sailors and as part of the Aegis weapon system.”

Lockheed Martin went under contract to deliver the integrated system in 2018. It spent 2020 carrying out a critical design review and factory qualification tests.

After decades of company R&D surrounding solid-state lasers, the system was primed to be delivered in such a short time, Ottaviano said.

A bonus for the Navy is the high-powered optical tracker that comes with the system and can double as an intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance sensor when the laser isn’t being fired, the Lockheed executives said.

“It will be the most accurate [electro-optical] sensor on the ship,” Ottaviano added.

The USS Ponce’s laser weapon is capable of shooting down aircraft. Experts say lasers are a game changer in naval warfare. U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

As for firepower, directed energy weapons feature an almost unlimited magazine.

Ottaviano said: “As long as the ship has got power, the system can fire. You don’t run out of bullets. You don’t run out of lasers. You just keep going. … I’ll call it a transformational capability.”

The farther away an incoming attack can be detected, the more time commanders have to make time-sensitive combat decisions regarding a possible response.

Therefore, having one system that synthesizes sensing and shooting changes the equation for maritime warfare.

Connecting HELIOS’ fire control with ship-based Aegis Radar, used for missile defense, enables a combined system to gather surveillance data from the radar while preparing to destroy the targets.

Increasingly, lasers are being developed for ballistic missile defense, a technology which would nicely complement ship-fired interceptors such as SM-3s.

Pentagon officials explain that even if laser weapons are not yet strong enough to, for instance, knock out an ICBM in its mid-course phase of flight beyond the earth’s atmosphere — they might be able to help with targeting or identification.

In this respect, lasers as sensors could help with targeting and sensor-shooter time when it comes to destroyer launched missiles developed to knock approaching ballistic missiles out of the air.

Sailors no longer need to load and point their cannons — lasers can do the job, and, as long as power is generated, the potential damage inflicted is endless.

Sources: National Defense, Task & Purpose, Wikipedia, National Interest