Solid-state laser weapons are a step closer to operational capability with the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) reporting that it has successfully disabled a small target boat during testing off the Californian coast. Stemming from the Defense Department's Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program, the Northrop Grumman developed Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) was installed on the deck of the Navy's test ship the USS Paul Foster for the demonstration, making it the first time such a system has been integrated with a ship's radar and navigation system and the first time a high-energy laser has been fired at sea from a moving platform.

Testing on the open sea began in October 2010 with the MLD system and included the tracking and firing on land based targets as well as the recent exercises in which the weapons' capabilities were demonstrated against remotely controlled unmanned boats.

"During the latest demonstrations, MLD spent a total of three days at sea, during which we operated the laser at high power more than 35 times," according to Dan Wildt, vice president, directed energy systems at Northrop Grumman. "The laser withstood the stresses of wave heights up to seven-and-a-half feet."

The Navy intends to implement the laser weapons on up to eight classes of ships and the tests will underpin engineering and manufacturing development during this next phase.

"The results show that all critical technologies for an operational laser weapon system are mature enough to begin a formal weapon system development program," said Steve Hixson, vice president, space and directed energy systems at Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "Solid-state laser weapons are ready to transition to the fleet."

Solid-state laser technology is seen as complimentary, rather than a replacement for conventional weapons. With systems also being developed for airborne platforms, this technology has now well and truly made the leap from sci-fi to reality.

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