The U.S. Navy Wants a New Laser to Destroy Enemy Drones
The Navy has two kinds of lasers it is working on to use on warships; one of which is more powerful and damaging than the other.
The U.S. Navy is set to begin land-based testing of a “a high-energy laser weapon” later this year, continuing a trend towards lasers being used by the branch.
According to USNI News, the Navy is working on its fourth and fifth dazzler systems, while also proceeding with testing on the high-energy laser weapon. Also in the works is the Optical Dazzling Interdictor (ODIN), described by USNI News as “a nonlethal weapon that can confuse instead of shoot down drones.”
ODIN, per the site, has been installed on three different Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, with more to come.
That stronger laser, the the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS), will be installed on the USS Preble this year. HELIOS, however, is meant to do more damage, and may even be able to destroy cruise missiles.
“ODIN is unique because it’s a government-designed, -built, -tested, -installed system, which I think allowed us to go fairly quickly and meet that urgent need that came from the fleet,” Rear Adm. Seiko Okano told USNI News.
Popular Mechanics described the ODIN system as a nonlethal system meant to “bend and break.”
“The laser is meant to zap electro-optical sensors, like digital video cameras and infrared cameras, aboard drones, preventing remote operators from guiding them and using the cameras to gather intelligence.”
“I think it is really about trying to figure out the lethality of the system. We really don’t know yet until we test it, but really understanding the lethality of the system and then figuring out in parallel what that next step would be in directed energy,” Okano told ODNI.
“The directed energy systems that we have that we’re deploying this year really have three missions: one, counter-ISR; two, the ability to shoot down UAVs and disable small boats—those are really where we are right now. We’re looking to figure out what does that lethality spectrum look like, and I think where we’re going is really that anti-ship cruise missile capability.”
This isn’t the first time lasers have been used for military purposes. China is known to use mounted laser dazzlers, while the Army has also tested anti-drone and missile lasers.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), meanwhile, successfully tested a fiber-optic laser at the White Sands Test Range in New Mexico, in May of 2019.
“The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats,” Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander, said in an Air Force release, following the White Sands test. “The ability to shoot down missiles with speed of light technology will enable air operation in denied environments. I am proud of the AFRL team advancing our Air Force’s directed energy capability.”
Along with robots and artificial intelligence, lasers are seen as part of how the military will fight wars in the 2040s, using what are now considered futuristic weapons.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.