In February, the US Navy successfully tested its Layered Laser Defense (LLD), an all-electric laser weapon designed and built by Lockheed Marting, for the first time. The aim of this weapon is to disable or even destroy incoming subsonic missile targets whether they are in the air or on the sea.
The LLD can create optical dazzling, disable sensors, and can heat up a target to the point of destruction. In the tests, conducted by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) at the US Army’s High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the LLD tracked and shot down fixed-wing aerial vehicles, quadcopters, and even high-speed drones that were a proxy for cruise missiles moving slower than the speed of sound.
“Innovative laser systems like the LLD have the potential to redefine the future of naval combat operations,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Lorin C. Selby said in a statement. “They present transformational capabilities to the fleet, address diverse threats, and provide precision engagements with a deep magazine to complement existing defensive systems and enhance sustained lethality in high-intensity conflict.”
To be so efficient, the device is equipped with specialized optics to both observe and follow a target, as well as focus the laser beam to various degrees of effectiveness. The LLD also includes an artificial intelligence system designed to improve tracking and targeting.
This is not the first laser weapon commissioned and tested by the Navy. The idea of such weapons has been around for decades. Direct energy weapons have been an active area of research for a variety of reasons. The weapons wouldn’t need ammunition, for example, and the cost per engagement could be very low. Especially a system like the LLD, which is all-electric, so works as long as the ship it is installed on has power. But laser weapons weren’t always this efficient.
“The Navy performed similar tests during the 1980s but with chemical-based laser technologies that presented significant logistics barriers for fielding in an operational environment. And, ultimately, those types of lasers did not transition to the fleet or any other Service,” Dr Frank Peterkin, ONR’s directed energy portfolio manager, explained.
The LLD is more compact and efficient than previously tested systems, which makes it a more attractive weapon system than previous laser approaches. The teams working on it believe it’s a window into the future of weaponry. As it stands, there is currently no plan to field the LLD, however, there are plans to field directed energy weapons as early as this year.