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Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issu

Home Forums Research Engineering Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issu

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    Avatar of Jeff Chan
    Jeff Chan
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    FAS.org has a copy of a 19 October 2012 U.S. Congressional Research Service report “Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress”. Lasers could revolutionize near area ship defense.

    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R41526.pdf

    Summary
    Department of Defense (DOD) development work on high-energy military lasers, which has been
    underway for decades, has reached the point where lasers capable of countering certain surface
    and air targets at ranges of about a mile could be made ready for installation on Navy surface
    ships over the next few years. More powerful shipboard lasers, which could become ready for
    installation in subsequent years, could provide Navy surface ships with an ability to counter a
    wider range of surface and air targets at ranges of up to about 10 miles. These more powerful
    lasers might, among other things, provide Navy surface ships with a terminal-defense capability
    against certain ballistic missiles, including China’s new anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).

    The Navy and DOD have conducted development work on three principal types of lasers for
    potential use on Navy surface ships—fiber solid state lasers (SSLs), slab SSLs, and free electron
    lasers (FELs). One fiber SSL prototype demonstrator developed by the Navy was the Laser
    Weapon System (LaWS); another Navy fiber SSL effort is called the Tactical Laser System
    (TLS). Among DOD’s multiple efforts to develop slab SSLs for military use was the Maritime
    Laser Demonstration (MLD), a prototype laser weapon developed as a rapid demonstration
    project. The Navy has developed a lower-power FEL prototype and is now developing a
    prototype with scaled-up power. These lasers differ in terms of their relative merits as potential
    shipboard weapons.

    Although the Navy is developing laser technologies and prototypes of potential shipboard lasers,
    and has a generalized vision for shipboard lasers, the Navy currently does not have a program of
    record for procuring a production version of a shipboard laser, or a roadmap that calls for
    installing lasers on specific surface ships by specific dates. The possibility of equipping Navy
    surface ships with lasers in coming years raises a number of potential issues for Congress,
    including the following:

    • whether the Navy should act now to adopt a program of record for procuring a
    production version of a shipboard laser, and/or a roadmap that calls for installing
    lasers on specific surface ships by specific dates;

    • how many types of lasers to continue developing, particularly given constraints
    on Navy funding, and the relative merits of types currently being developed; and

    • the potential implications of shipboard lasers for the design and acquisition of
    Navy ships, including the Flight III DDG-51 destroyer that the Navy wants to
    begin procuring in FY2016.

    Congress in past years has provided some additional funding to help support Navy development
    of potential shipboard lasers. For FY2013 and subsequent years, Congress has several options
    regarding potential shipboard lasers. In addition to decisions on whether or not to fund continued
    development of potential shipboard lasers, these options include, among other things, the
    following: encouraging or directing the Navy or some other DOD organization to perform an
    analysis of alternatives (AOA) comparing the cost-effectiveness of lasers and traditional kinetic
    weapons (such as missiles and guns) for countering surface, air, and missile targets, and
    encouraging or directing the Navy to adopt a program of record for procuring a production
    version of a shipboard laser, and/or a roadmap that calls for installing lasers on specific surface
    ships by specific dates.

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