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HELIOS laser weapons system

Lockheed Martins HELIOS laser weapons system may eventually replace Gatling guns and missile launchers on US Navy ships. HELIOS, named afterthe god of the sun in Greek mythology, shoots laser beams far more powerful than anything that has ever been used on a US Navy ship before. The beams are planned to be 150 kilowatts. In contrast, the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) that was mounted on the amphibious transport dock of the USS Ponce in 2014 had a laser power of about 30 kilowatts.

On 01 March 2018 the U.S. Navy awarded Lockheed Martin a $150 million contract, with options worth up to $942.8 million, for the development, manufacture and delivery of two high power laser weapon systems, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and counter-Unmanned Aerial System (counter-UAS) capabilities, by fiscal year 2020. With the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system, Lockheed Martin will help the Navy take a major step forward in its goal to field laser weapon systems aboard surface ships. HELIOS combines three key capabilities, brought together for the first time in one weapon system:

  • A high-energy laser system: The high-energy fiber laser will be designed to counter unmanned aerial systems and small boats. The energy and thermal management system will leverage Lockheed Martin experience on Department of Defense programs, and the cooling system will be designed for maximum adaptability onboard ships. In addition, Lockheed Martin will bring decades of shipboard integration experience, reducing risk and increasing reliability.
  • A long-range ISR capability: HELIOS sensors will be part of an integrated weapon system, designed to provide decision-makers with maximum access to information. HELIOS data will be available on the Lockheed Martin-led Aegis Combat System.
  • A counter-UAS dazzler capability: The HELIOS dazzler will be designed to obscure adversarial UAS-based ISR capabilities.

"The HELIOS program is the first of its kind, and brings together laser weapon, long-range ISR and counter-UAS capabilities, dramatically increasing the situational awareness and layered defense options available to the U.S. Navy," said Michele Evans, vice president and general manager of Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors. "This is a true system of capabilities, and we're honored the Navy trusted Lockheed Martin to be a part of fielding these robust systems to the fleet."

In this first increment of the U.S. Navy's Surface Navy Laser Weapon System program, Lockheed Martin will deliver two units for test by fiscal year 2020. One unit will be delivered for shipboard integration on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and one unit will be used for land testing at White Sands Missile Range.

"Lockheed Martin's spectral beam combined fiber lasers bring flexibility and adaptability to defensive and offensive missions," said Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems. "Our design is scalable, and we can optimize it to meet requirements for future increments."

"HELIOS is one component of the Navy Laser Family of Systems and a major portion of the Navy's incremental strategy for delivery of increased laser weapon capability," Colleen O'Rourke, Spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven.

The Navy plans to put a HELIOS laser weapon on ships by early 2020. According to Lockheed Martin, HELIOS is a candidate to replace the MK-15 Phalanx Close-in Weapons System (CIWS) and the RIM-116 missile system on the US fleet. The Phalanx MK-15 weapons system is a radar-guided 20mm Gatling gun providing inner layer point defense capability against anti-ship missiles, aircraft and littoral warfare threats. The Phalanx is unique in that it is the only deployed close-in weapon system capable of autonomously performing its own search, detect, evaluation, track, engage and kill assessment functions.

HELIOS also has the potential to replace the RIM-116 lightweight, quick-reaction, fire-and-forget missile system, We Are The Mighty reported 31 May 2018, citing the materials from Lockheed. The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) is produced jointly by the US and Germany for point defense on ships facing incoming cruise missiles in addition to asymmetric threats and surface threats.

Analyst Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessment said in March 2018 that HELIOS' ability to operate without physical storage of ammunition shows the US Navy is willing to transition to non-kinetic weapons. However generating adequate electrical power for the system remains a problem to be solved.

According to We Are The Mighty, HELIOS actually has comparable range to the RIM-116 (about 5 nautical miles) and potentially unlimited ammunition, assuming the power generation question is taken care of, thus making it a prime replacement for the gatling guns and missile systems that currently provide close-range defense. "We are talking about lasers that now have the power and beam quality needed to defend against [unmanned aerial vehicles], small boat threats and possible some weapons (eg incoming missiles) over short ranges," according to Gunzinger.

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