US Navy to Equip Aegis Combat Systems with Fully Integrated Lasers

Posted Feb 22, 2021

The US Navy this year will be firing a high-energy laser weapon that is fully integrated with one of its destroyers, which proponents say is a major step toward fielding directed energy technology. Joe Ottaviano, Lockheed Martin Business Development Director for advanced product solutions, said he has heard the adage that battlefield lasers always seem to be one year away” from fielding, but asserted that this time is different.

The High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance, or HELIOS, this year is slated to be permanently deployed aboard a Flight IIA DDG Arleigh Burke destroyer and integrated with its Aegis combat system. “We’re delivering a full-end system that actually brings defense capabilities to an area where there currently isn’t any and exceeds the capability, I think we all had in our mind going forward,” Ottaviano said in a press briefing.

HELIOS is a 60-kilowatt solid-state laser capable of scalable effects, which can “dazzle” and blind sensors, but at high power it can “put a hole” through unmanned aerial vehicles, low flying aircraft, and in some cases, missiles, Ottaviano said.

Jason Wrigley, Lockheed’s business development director for naval combat and missile defense systems, said: “People have been talking about the promise and the possibility of laser weapon systems for decades. So it’s really exciting for us to finally have reached this milestone, delivering an integrated laser weapons system into the hands of sailors and as part of the Aegis weapon system.”

Lockheed Martin went under contract to deliver the integrated system in 2018. It spent 2020 carrying out a critical design review and factory qualification tests. After decades of company research and development surrounding solid-state lasers, the system was primed to be delivered in such a short time, Ottaviano said. The Navy contributed much of the software needed to integrate the system into Aegis, he added.

A bonus for the Navy is the high-powered optical tracker that comes with the system and can double as an intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance sensor when the laser isn’t being fired, the Lockheed executives said. “It will be the most accurate [electro-optical] sensor on the ship,” Ottaviano added.

As for firepower, directed energy weapons feature an almost unlimited magazine. Ottaviano said: “As long as the ship has got power, the system can fire. You don’t run out of bullets. You don’t run out of lasers. You just keep going. … I’ll call it a transformational capability.

Rear Adm. Seiko Okano, the Navy’s program executive officer for integrated warfare systems, said integrating HELIOS into Aegis is “a pretty big deal.” Tests carried out in 2020 on land at Lockheed Martin’s Moorestown, New Jersey, facility, surprised her. “We’ve realized over time that the capability that we’re giving to the fleet is actually more capable than what we initially had thought,” she said at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference."

Ottaviano said the Navy is looking at possibly integrating HELIOS into other platforms, particularly aircraft carriers. A larger footprint could result in higher powers capable of taking out larger targets.

Okano said: “I think certainly we can build a bigger laser, but it is how does that work, and how do we integrate that into the ship, and what other [tradeoffs] do we have to think about?

As for the laser taking down hypersonic missiles traveling at speeds above Mach 5, that is still a ways off. Sensors will have to improve, she said.