The US Navy is deploying its first laser weapon on the USS Ponce in a few months. Called LaWS, it uses fiber-optic, solid-state laser as both an offensive and defensive weapon against drones, missiles, and other targets. The technology also has obvious potential for ground vehicles – a fact that hasn't escaped the US Marine Corps. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded contracts to develop a similar laser weapon that can be installed in light-tactical vehicles instead of ships as part of its Ground-Based Air Defense Directed Energy On-the-Move (GBAD) program and the Marine Corps Science and Technology Strategic Plan.
"We can expect that our adversaries will increasingly use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and our expeditionary forces must deal with that rising threat," says Colonel William Zamagni, acting head of ONR's Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department. "GBAD gives the Marine Corps a capability to counter the UAV threat efficiently, sustainably and organically with austere expeditionary forces. GBAD employed in a counter UAV role is just the beginning of its use and opens myriad other possibilities for future expeditionary forces."
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The GBAD laser isn't designed to replace the weapons carried by a Marine unit, but would act as a complement with its ability to cover long distances at the speed of light and intercept incoming missiles moving at supersonic speed. Not only that, there's no need to carry any ammunition for it. At the very least, it will make the airspace around a Marine deployment a very hostile place for enemy UAVs. The ONR sees the laser system being installed in light tactical vehicles, such as the Humvee and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
Working in partnership with industry and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, the ONR is adapting the Navy laser with emphasis on the laser, the beam director, radar, the advanced cooling system, power generation, advanced optics, beam control, and the communications and command and control system.
"We're confident we can bring together all of these pieces in a package that's small enough to be carried on light tactical vehicles and powerful enough to counter these threats," says Brigadier General Kevin Killea, vice chief of naval research and commanding general, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.
According to the ONR, the laser system will undergo target tests later this year using a 10 kW laser that will later be upgraded to 30 kW in 2016. The tests will focus on the systems ability to detect and track UAVs, and its ability to work from, vehicles of various sizes.