This week, the U.S. Navy reported that it had shot down a simulated cruise missile using an all-electric laser weapon for the first time. The simulated shoot-down was part of a recent Navy test at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. During testing, the laser met if not exceeded expectations in both accuracy and speed. Having an LLD in a Country’s back pocket would also help avoid the dangers of having propellants and explosives on board.
The Navy says that there is no plan to field the LLD. However, it provides insight into the future of laser weapons. The Navy said they were able to infuse Artificial Intelligence to improve tracking and targeting. Alongside getting the perfect shot, LLDs are also more compact, powerful, and energy-efficient than past and current weapons that are in combat. The laser also uses its high-resolution telescope to track airborne threats and assess battle damage after engaging a target.
The Navy has previously used a laser to shoot down a missile, but with much different technology. During the MIRACL chemical-laser research program in the 1980s-90s, the Navy’s deuterium fluoride laser system hit high-speed aerial targets in a series of dry runs. Despite the strength of the laser, the MIRACL chemical-laser research program diminished due to several issues in managing its hazardous fuel in the field.
David Kiel, a former Navy captain who is a program officer in ONR’s Aviation, Force Projection, and Integrated Defense Department, which managed the testing, stated, “LLD is an example of what a very advanced laser system can do to defeat significant threats to naval forces….We have ongoing efforts, both at ONR and in other Navy programs, to keep building on these results in the near future.”
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been working on this technology for many years. In 2014, ONR tested the Laser Weapon System (LaWS). ONR also fielded the Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) aboard the USS Portland in 2021.
The system designed by Lockheed Martin started testing the Layered Laser Defense (LLD) back in February. This new technology acts as a demonstration of how a country can combat drone usage and fast-attack boats, similar to the past LaWS system.