The Amphibious Warship USS Portland Has Shot Down A Drone With Its New High-Power Laser
The successful test of the powerful laser is a major step forward for the Navy's directed energy weapons ambitions.
The San Antonio class landing platform dock USS Portland has successfully knocked down a small drone using its new laser directed energy weapon. The ship was first spotted with the system installed as it left its homeport in San Diego California in December 2019, which The War Zone was first to report.
The U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet announced the test of Portland's laser weapon, which is formally known as the Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) Mk 2 Mod 0, on May 22, 2020. The test itself took place on May 16 at an unspecified location in the Pacific Ocean. The service described the event as "the first system-level implementation of a high-energy class solid-state laser," but did not say if this was the first time that the ship has actually fired the weapon.
"The Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator is a unique capability the Portland gets to test and operate for the Navy, while paving the way for future weapons systems," Navy Captain Karrey Sanders, Portland's commanding officer, said in a statement. "By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and small crafts, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats."
Northrop Grumman developed the LWSD Mk 2 Mod 0 for the Navy as part of the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) program and delivered it to San Diego for installation on Portland in late 2019, something The War Zone was also first to report. The service had announced that the San Antonio class ship would be the first to carry this laser weapon back in 2018 and had originally planned to conduct the first at-sea tests by the end of September 2019.
The Navy expects the 150-kilowatt class LWSD Mk 2 Mod 0 to primarily provide ships with an additional line of defense against unmanned aircraft and small boat swarms. The laser can also act as a dazzler, blinding optical sensors and seekers. The full system can use its own integrated full-motion video cameras, which are used to track targets and aim the weapon, to conduct surveillance, as well.
The SSL-TM program is just one of four active programs that the service is working on as part of the Navy Laser Family of Systems, which will hopefully serve as stepping stones to more powerful and otherwise capable laser weapons in the future. The Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Dewey is also now equipped with what looks to be an initial version of the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN) system, another naval directed energy development that The War Zone was first to report on and that you can find out more about in this past piece.
It's worth noting that this is not the first time the Navy has installed an operational laser weapon system on a ship. The interim sea base USS Ponce carried the AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Middle East between 2014 and 2017. Northrop Grumman developed the LaWS, as well as the earlier Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), both of which helped inform the development of the LWSD Mk 2 Mod 0. Being in the 150-kilowatt class, the new laser weapon is significantly more powerful than the 15-kilowatt-class MLD and the 30-kilowatt-class AN/SEQ-3.
"With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy," the Portland's Captain Sanders said. This successful test is certainly an exciting step forward for the Navy's directed energy ambitions.
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