Northrop Grumman laser could protect U.S. Navy ships from small attack boats

July 22, 2009
A high-energy solid-state laser may soon be the weapon used to keep small attack boats a safe distance from U.S. Navy ships.

A high-energy solid-state laser may soon be the weapon used to keep small attack boats a safe distance from U.S. Navy ships. In certain parts of the world, one of the foremost threats to Navy ships is not the conventional enemy battleship--instead, it is a swarm of small boats rigged with explosives, with the potential that the boats' pilots are suicide bombers. The sheer numbers of boats in such a swarm are their greatest strength.

But precisely aimed laser beams could potentially provide a rapid, effective, and measured response to these boats, keeping them all out of range. Under a new Navy initiative called the Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD), Northrop Grumman Corporation (Redondo Beach, CA) will apply its solid-state laser systems expertise and successes to demonstrate a laser-weapon system able to defeat a wide range of current threats, including a small-boat swarm.

"Naval forces face a wide range of challenges from small surface craft to advanced aerial threats," said Steve Hixson, vice president of Advanced Concepts--Space and Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. "New solutions are required to meet these challenges within cost and force structure constraints. Northrop Grumman uniquely has proven its expertise in addressing key issues for laser-power scaling so that the response meets the level of the threat. We will apply companywide capabilities, from shipbuilding to systems integration, to meet the Navy's objectives for this program."

The Office of Naval Research (Arlington, VA) has awarded the company an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for MLD with a ceiling value of $98 million, with an expected completion date of June 2014. The Navy committed an initial amount of $499,999 through the end of the current government fiscal year that will enable Northrop Grumman to complete the critical design review for the demonstration. Under the contract, Northrop Grumman will demonstrate a laser-weapon system before the end of 2010 that is suitable for operation in a marine environment and able to defeat small-boat threats.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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