US Navy wants HELIOS laser cannon aboard destroyers

It’s big. It’s bright. It’s dangerous. And it will go to sea on a front-line warship for the first time before 2021. The US Navy has announced it has ordered Lockheed Martin to fit a High Energy Laser Integrated Optical weapon with Surveillance (HELIOS) aboard a destroyer in its Pacific fleet.

The 60-kilowatt laser cannon is capable of burning holes in boats and melting vital components on drones. Ultimately, it’s hoped the defensive weapon will be able to sear incoming hypersonic missiles out of the sky.

The US Navy has placed a $US150 million order for two of the devices.

But Russia is already rolling out a similar system to defend its ground-based installations.”/>
media_cameraArtist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS system. Picture: Lockheed Martin


“We are going to burn the boats if you will and move forward with this technology,” Rear Admiral Ron Boxall told the 2019 Directed Energy Summit.

One laser cannon will be installed at the White Sands Missile Range for testing, Lockheed Martin says. The other will be installed upon a modern Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.

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“The HELIOS program is the first of its kind, and brings together laser weapon, long-range ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and counter-UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) capabilities, dramatically increasing the situational awareness and layered defence options available to the US Navy,” says Lockheed Martin spokesman Michele Evans.


The challenge will be getting it to work in harmony with all the other sensors and weapons systems attached to the destroyer’s complex AEGIS computer network.

“The problem I have today is the integration of that system into my existing combat system. If I’m going to burn the boats, I’m going to replace something I have today with that system doing that mission with these weapons,” Admiral Boxall said.

“If I have this system that can kill and I have a system that can actually sense, then I have to make sure it integrates with the other things I have on my ship that can sense and kill, namely the Aegis weapon system.”


It’s not the first time the US Navy has sent a laser weapon to sea.

It did so with the USS Ponce, amphibious transport ship converted to test new technologies, in 2014. Named LaWS (Laser Weapon System), that experimental cannon had only one third the strength of the new device.

HELIOS, however, is hoped to meet a new generation of threats.”/>
media_cameraA group of Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers fire missiles during a training exercise. One of these ships will soon be fitted with the world’s first operational laser cannon to go to sea. Picture: US Navy


It’s hoped HELIOS will be fast enough and strong enough to cripple swarms of armed speedboats, such as those used by Iran in the Persian Gulf.

It’s also hoped it will be accurate enough to counter swarms of cheap drones — whether through the raw power of its laser or its ability to ‘dazzle’ some sensors.

These capabilities are nothing new. Current generation automatic Phalanx gattling-guns and Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) systems do the same thing.


It’s just that it takes time to reload these defensive weapons, and only limited stocks of ammunition can be carried. A Phalanx can only fire for a total of 20 seconds before it is emptied. And RAM launchers only come with 21 missiles each.

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What both RAM and Phalanx can do that the HELIOS can’t is shoot down attacking cruise missiles.

Nevertheless, facing a threat potentially involving hundreds of cheap drones and dozens of small attack boats, the US Navy finds the ability for HELIOS to be recharged any number of times by the ship’s own engines appealing.


And it hopes ongoing development of the laser will soon give it an antimissile capability.

“It’s a crawl, walk, run approach,” Admiral Boxall told the US Naval Institute.

A third, less defined, feature of HELIOS is an ability to provide long-range surveillance. This may involve the weapon’s new targeting system, or a digital scan mode for the laser itself.”/>
media_cameraRussia’s Peresvet laser cannon unfolds from the back of a truck. It is believed to be an area-defence weapon, similar to the US Navy’s HELIOS system. Picture: Russian Ministry of Defence


One of President Vladimir Putin’s six new ‘superweapons’ announced a year ago is now rolling out into active service.

It’s called Peresvet. It’s a truck-mounted laser cannon probably intended to defend an area from hostile drones and missiles.

Exactly what it is capable of is unknown.


But Moscow is hyping its new weapon, releasing a series of videos and reports on the advanced technology.

“Peresvet laser systems, based on new physical principles, entered combat service in [a] testing regime with the Russian armed forces,” the Russian Defence Ministry’s news service said in December.

Originally published as Laser cannons are ready for war

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