Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD)
The U.S. Navy would peek at a future where high energy laser weapons could defend its ships against attack under a contract awarded 22 October 2015 to Northrop Grumman Corporation by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Under the three-phase Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) contract, the company will design, produce, integrate, and support the shipboard testing of a 150-kilowatt-class solid state (electric) laser weapon system. The initial award of $53 million will support work planned for the next 12 months. The contract could grow to a total value of $91 million over 34 months if ONR exercises all of its contract options.
"Northrop Grumman is integrating the latest in high energy lasers with more than 40 years of experience as a laser weapon system integrator to protect sailors against last-minute, high impact threats," said Guy Renard, director and program manager, directed energy, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "For about the price of a gallon of diesel fuel per shot, we're offering the Navy a high-precision defensive approach that will protect not only its sailors, but also its wallet."
Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp., Redondo Beach, California, was awarded a $53,151,809 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the Solid State High Power Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) program. The Office of Naval Research funded the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) which was the first to demonstrate defeat of small boats at sea using a high energy laser.
Recent advancements in the power and durability of commercially available solid state laser (SSL) technologies have enabled the Navy to execute a quick-reaction effort and operationally field an SSL weapon. The Navy Laser Weapon System (LaWS) AN/SEQ-3(XN-1) was installed on USS Ponce in the summer of 2014. After a series of test and certification steps, LaWS is now the first-ever fully approved laser weapon system deployed by any U.S. military service.
The Office of Naval Research seeks to continue the advancement of SSL weapon system designs, architectures, and component technologies. The government believes that improvements in lethality may be achieved through maturation and optimization of a variety of system characteristics, including laser power, beam quality, beam director architecture, and other physical and optical aspects of the laser, beam director, and system design. Leveraging experience and internal investments, the Northrop Grumman team is ready to fully support the three phases of the LWSD program.
This contract contains options, which if exercised, will bring the contract value to $91,057,597. Work will be performed in Redondo Beach, California, and is expected to be completed Oct. 21, 2016. If options are exercised, work will continue through July 7, 2018. Fiscal 2015 and 2016 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $36,465,449 will be obligated at the time of award. Contract funds in the amount of $21,465,449 will expire at the end of current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured under the Office of Naval Research broad agency announcement 15-0005 entitled “Solid State, High Power Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) Design, Development and Demonstration for Surface Navy, USN.” Six proposals were received in response to this solicitation. The Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity (N00014-16-C-1009).
During Phase 1 of the LWSD contract, Northrop Grumman will develop a detailed design for the new system. Phase 2 will include assembly and ground test of the system, while Phase 3 will comprise at-sea testing of the system aboard the Navy's Self Defense Test Ship (SDTS). The Navy would lead this testing with Northrop Grumman providing technical support. The SDTS is the former USS Paul F. Foster (DD-964).
According to Renard, Northrop Grumman's LWSD is well suited to support the Navy's planned initial testing on the SDTS. The company has designed its system to be installed, however, with minimal modification or additional costs, for demonstration on the Navy's DDG-51 FLT II class destroyers. Future Navy laser weapon systems could eventually protect a wide array of naval platforms from advanced surface and air threats.
Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation (SSL-TM)
Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0
Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) successfully disabled an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a Solid State Laser - Technology Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0 on 16 May 2020. LWSD is a high-energy laser weapon system demonstrator developed by the Office of Naval Research and installed on Portland for an at-sea demonstration.
USS Portland was selected in 2018 to be the first ship to test the Northrop Grumman Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0 at sea. This second iteration of SSL-TM, which is ultimately expected to become a 150-kilowatt laser weapon, draws from lessons learned from Office of Naval Research (ONR) demonstrations and testing that date back to 2011.
Laser weapons will give warfighters options unlike any other system. The same weapon that can be used to identify and then issue a non-lethal warning to an approaching unmanned aerial vehicle can then set a drone ablaze and send it crashing to the ground. The military began experimenting with laser weapons in the late 1970s. Carbon dioxide lasers were initially used to engage airborne and land targets. Although they performed efficiently at megawatt output levels, these systems often were very large, difficult to integrate, costly, and had insufficient target engagement ranges. With the advent of solid-state laser technologies, the Defense Department shifted its focus away from chemical lasers. The technologies used to develop solid-state laser weapon programs began with the Department of Defense High-Energy Laser Joint Technology Office program called the Robust Electric Laser Initiative, which fostered technology development for several types of lasers in cooperation with industry.
Navy investments in laser technology include the ONR-funded demonstration of the first high-energy laser aboard a Navy surface combatant at sea, as well as demonstrations and investments in the Laser Weapon System and the Mk-38 Tactical Laser System. ONR continued to invest in rapid-fielding initiatives and technical demonstrations, including a successful test of the Laser Weapon System against unmanned aerial systems during exercises off the coast of Southern California in 2012. In 2014, Naval Sea Systems Command installed a solid-state laser gun aboard USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15) for a deployment in the Arabian Gulf.
High-energy laser weapons cost about $1 per shot to fire—a highly cost-effective approach for countering the threat from unmanned aerial vehicles, which can be manufactured for as little as $50,000 apiece. Defending today’s warships with only guns and missiles is a very expensive means of fighting inexpensive threats. A laser would modify this equation in the defender’s favor by giving ships what the Navy calls a “deep magazine,” reducing the need for replenishing. A ship’s existing electrical system can power the laser, and missiles and ammunition can be saved for use against larger and more difficult targets, such as manned aircraft and ships. Laser weapons complement kinetic weapons currently aboard surface combatants.
The US Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) is looking for industry proposals to develop and demonstrate anaffordable solid-state laser weapon prototype for shipboard use, it stated in a Broad Agency Announcement (ONR BAA # 12-019) published on 14 August 2012. ONR hosted an industry day in May to provide the research and development community with informationabout its planned Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) program. Feedback gleaned from industryhas now been incorporated into the BAA. The SSL-TM program builds upon earlier ONR developments inkilowatt-scale lasers, including the Maritime Laser Demonstration. This proof-of-concept technology was tested at sea in 2011 aboard a decommissioned USN ship and found to disable a small boat target.
The selected contractor will be expected to build and test a prototype laser weapon that can be used on a movingship representative of a naval surface combatant at combat speeds, in what are described as "combat-like"conditions, and with threat-representative targets. The prototype laser weapon system is expected to use the ship'savailable power and cooling and be connected to the ship's combat control and support systems. Prior tocombatant ship installation, prototypes may first need to be extensively tested at sea on other available naval testassets to ensure that technical maturity has been achieved before the USN commits itself to modifying anoperational warship.
The technology maturation program is currently classified as a science and technology "LeapAhead" program, but in future may migrate into an Innovative Naval Prototype (INP), FutureNaval Capability (FNC), or directly into an acquisition based program, as determined appropriateby Navy and Department of Defense Leadership.The goal and threshold objective of the program includes demonstrating technical maturity of thesolid state laser weapon system against relevant surface and air targets, in realistic encountersincluding representative ranges from the ship to target, while at sea and firing through arepresentative maritime environment. This specifically means the building and testing of aprototype laser weapon - off shore, at sea, on a moving ship representative of a naval surfacecombatant at combat speeds, in "combat like" conditions with representative targets engaged in"live fire" exercises. This also includes the goals of operating the prototypical laser weaponsystem from the ship's available power and cooling, and being connected to the ship's combatcontrol and support systems.
Two ship classes, the Arleigh Burke Destroyer, DDG-51, and the Littoral Combat Ship, LCS, were primary candidates for initial shipboard installation. Prior to combatant ship installation, prototypes may first need to beextensively tested at sea on other available naval test assets to ensure that technical maturity hasbeen achieved prior to committing to altering operational assets.
The Beam Director Subsystem of the SSL-TM program is seen by the Navy as having a number of highly critical technical risk elements, including the need to function for long periods in the maritime domain. Therefore the SSL-TM program's main focus will be on the engineering andtechnologies necessary to support extensive testing of a maritime based beam director (which includes generic functions for kinetic tracking mount or K.T.M.) for a laser weapon system, inorder to reduce these risks. As a goal, a maritime based beam director from the SSL-TM Prototype may be installed on a Navy surface combatant or other Navy test vessel for longperiods of time.
This installation may be for periods of at least six months and will preferably be left unattended. This will require careful thought and planning regarding the development of stored configurations, start up sequences with and without a laser subsystem, as well as unattended aperture maintenance. A stated goal is that during this six month "installed period" aboard ship - that there shall be little to no need for support personnel or extensive engineering support while in a stored configuration. Further, it has been stated that there would be norequirement for ship's personnel to adjust, clean, or examine either interior or exterior optics inthe entire laser weapon system. Therefore, health monitoring of the optical train for a high power laser beam path shall be considered a critical review item, as well as having unattended operations for verification and cleaning of external apertures.
The laser subsystem was assessed by the Navy to potentially be a costly subsystem to develop and requires significant manufacturing lead times to produce quantities to conducting exhaustive testing for some projected mission scenarios at ranges relevant to their success. The SSL weapon system requires a minimum optical laser sub-system output power of 30 kW but was encouraged as high as possible not to exceed 150kW. If proposing to use a copy of one of the Joint Technology Office Robust Electric Laser Initiative SSL sub-system or Excalibur configurations, 25kW would be required for the minimum. Regardless ofoptical power proposed in the laser subsystem, the Beam Director design shall support aminimum of 100kW optical laser subsystem output, unless greater than 100kW laser subsystem isproposed. There is no requirement to go above 150 kW optical output power.
Three Navy contractors — Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems — were awarded contracts to develop different concepts of solid-state laser weapon prototypes between 100—150 kilowatts. As a result of LaWS performance and knowledge gained, new solid-state-based high-energy laser weapon systems with improved effectiveness could be demonstrated in an operational setting on destroyers or littoral combat ships in approximately five years. If all goes well, full-scale deployment of a solid-state laser weapon aboard a ship could become a reality in the 2020s.
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