Lockheed Martin’s ADAM (Area Defense Anti-Munitions) High Energy Laser (HEL) system is part of a growing breed of high-energy weapons being developed for the armed forces of the near future. Having previously demonstrated its ability to track, target, and destroy rockets at high speed and at distances of up to 2 km (1.2 miles), the versatility of the ADAM system has been further established by taking aim at waterborne targets, successfully disabling a military-grade boat in a test on May 7 in the Pacific Ocean.

In this latest test, which was the first against a maritime target, the disabling of a military-grade boat by puncturing its multiple-layer rubber hull required a sustained laser burst for 30 seconds. It demonstrated the ability of the ADAM system to lock on to a single point of a weaving, bobbing target at a distance of approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) with super-accuracy for sustained periods of time. Not quite as spectacular as destroying a rocket in mid-flight, perhaps, but it does suggest that the ADAM system may also be used effectively against more robust larger craft more likely to be encountered in day-to-day military operations. And all without giving away the weapon’s position through either muzzle flash or the noise associated with more conventional weapons.

Along with its ability to stealthily target vessels and render them inoperative, the ADAM system does so without exploding projectiles or multiple rounds of bullets as used in conventional weapons systems, thereby hinting at its possible use in other fields, such as the non-lethal control of insurgent vessels or in sea border protection duties. And the prospect of a weapon that is a target-only, non-incendiary device can only bode well for the future uptake and more likely community acceptance of laser-based armament systems.

To achieve the high degrees of target-specific accuracy required, the ADAM system relies on its ability to direct an array of laser beams carried on multiple high-power optical fibers into one coherent beam. Much like a heliostat directs the concentrated energy of the sun from multiple focal points to create a beam far hotter than can be generated from single reflectors, Lockheed Martin HEL systems combine manifold laser outputs to form a super-powerful beam. This converged beam is then steered to its target using the company's proprietary laser beam control architecture and software.

Further work along these lines could soon result in the production of a range of low-cost, ultra high-accuracy, "unlimited" magazine weapons using more readily available software and electronics technologies that can be easily and inexpensively added as an adjunct to conventional weapons system.

“Our ADAM system tests have shown that high-energy lasers are ready to begin addressing critical defense needs,” said Tory Bruno, president of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

The video below documents the latest tests of the Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) system.

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