News Branch Navy

The Navy just got its hands on a new frickin’ laser weapon to play with

? We're on the highway to the laser zone ?
Jared Keller Avatar
navy HELIOS laser system
An artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS laser weapon system. (Lockheed Martin)

Buckle your seatbelts folks, because we’re on the highway to the laser zone.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin announced on Monday that it had delivered its High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance weapon system, also known as HELIOS, to the Navy for installation on an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer.

We go now to an artist’s rendering of the device:

Developed under a $150 million contract, the 60-kilowatt HELIOS system offers triple the power of the 20 kW AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, that the Navy unveiled on the USS Ponce was back in 2014.

While the LaWS was repurposed as a “land-based test asset” for the HELIOS system after the Ponce was decommissioned in October 2017, the latter is intended to function as an offensive weapon system designed to destroy incoming drones and cripple small attack craft.

Indeed, the delivery of the high-powered laser weapon follows a recent Navy demonstration “of full laser power in excess of the 60 kW requirement,” according to Lockheed Martin.

“We are going to burn the boats, if you will, and move forward with this technology,” Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, head of the service’s surface warfare directorate, said during an industry summit in Washington, D.C. back in 2019.

The Navy’s current family of laser weapons consists of three distinct systems: the HELIOS; the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy, or ODIN; and the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort, according to a recent report on the service’s directed energy efforts compiled by the Congressional Research Service.

The installation of the HELIOS would represent the third major integration of a laser weapons system aboard a Navy warship in just over a year.

In February, the USS Dewey became the first Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to receive the service’s ODIN laser weapons system to jam or confuse enemy drones rather than burn through them.

Then, in May, the amphibious transport ship USS Portland successfully took out the UAV using a Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator (LWSD) that, officially installed on the ship in December 2019, is a product of the Navy’s SSL-TM effort.

While the installation of the HELIOS represents a major step forward for the Navy’s directed-energy aspirations, it’s unclear if the service has figured out how to address some of the power issues that come with actually firing the 60 kW laser system from an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

“[W]e are out of Schlitz with regard to power,” as Boxall said back in December 2019, noting that the Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers are already strapped powering the new AN/SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar. “’We used a lot of power for that and we don’t have as much’ extra for additional functions.”

According to the CRS report, the Navy’s fiscal year 2021 budget request provided for the installation of the HELIOS laser weapon system on a destroyer during the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, with plans for fleet testing and sustainment through fiscal year 2025.

Related: The Army is gearing up for a laser Stryker shoot-off