"Fire the laser!" may sound like something straight out of "Star Wars," but that phrase could one day be common on U.S. Navy ships.
Northrop Grumman and the Office of Naval Research recently concluded a series of successful solid-state laser defense firing tests aboard the decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer USS Paul F. Foster (a remotely driven self-defense test ship). The Maritime Laser Demonstrator zapped away at an assortment of objectives at the Pacific Ocean Test Range off the central California coast, including land-based targets and remotely driven small boats that traveled at various speeds.
It was the first time a laser of such strength had been fired from a moving ship at sea. This is also the first system to be integrated with a Navy ship's radar and navigation system, ensuring a much higher level of accuracy. The U.S. Navy collaborated with the Office of the Secretary of Defense's High Energy Joint Technology Office and the Army's Joint High Powered Solid State Laser program to bring this once-imagined weapon to life.
"The results show that all critical technologies for an operational laser weapon system are mature enough to begin a formal weapon system development program," Steve Hixson, vice president of space and directed energy systems at Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector, said in a statement. "Solid-state laser weapons are ready to transition to the fleet."
The next step is "the engineering, manufacturing, and development phase," according to Northrop Grumman. The Navy plans to outfit up to eight classes of ships in the fleet with this next-generation weapon, but these beams aren't quite ready to replace traditional weapons systems, according to Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin Carr. Nevertheless, these lasers sure could cause a bad day for smaller craft.
In the video below, we see just exactly how little time it takes for a laser to melt away critical components on a small boat. After a few seconds of maintaining laser contact, a fire erupts in the engine, causing total loss of power on the rogue ship.