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US Navy, Northrop test new laser weapon system

The solid-state, high-energy laser system successfully disables a small target vessel during test. A US Navy photo

NAVAL BASE VENTURA COUNTY (BNS): The US Navy and Northrop Grumman have successfully tested a new laser weapon system which has validated its prowess to intercept and destroy small boats at sea.

The new weapon, called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) designed and built by Northrop, was fired from a surface ship and destroyed a small target vessel during its latest test on April 6.

Open ocean tests for the system were conducted between October 2010 and April 2011 at the Pacific Ocean Test Range near San Nicolas Island off the Central California coast. For these tests, the laser system was installed on the Navy’s Self Defence Test Ship, the USS Paul Foster.

While underway, the MLD system initially tracked and destroyed land targets. The solid-state, directed energy system then tracked and damaged moving, remotely piloted, unmanned small boats traveling at representative speeds and ranges, Northrop officials said.

“The results show that all critical technologies for an operational laser weapon system are mature enough to begin a formal weapon system development programme,” Steve Hixson, vice president, space and directed energy systems at Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector, said.

This was the first time that a high energy laser weapon system was installed on a naval ship, integrated with its radar and navigation system, and was fired from the moving platform to hit the target, Northrop said.

Previous tests of solid-state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions, it said.

Results of the at-sea tests will be used by the Navy to help guide engineering manufacturing development phase of a Navy laser weapon system and transition it to a programme of record for up to eight classes of ships the Navy has identified as likely platforms.


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