US Navy gives Lockheed Martin $150m big frickin' laser cannon contract

It is supposed to 'dazzle' drones rather than fry them

By Gareth Corfield

Posted in Security, 2nd March 2018 15:55 GMT

Lockheed Martin, makers of the F-35 and various other bits of defence hardware, has been handed a $150m contract by the US Navy to build two bloody great laser cannons.

The laser weapons will be delivered along with a long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance "capability" and are specified to be capable of dazzling drones ("counter-UAS capabilities", in the military argot).

"The HELIOS program is the first of its kind, and brings together laser weapon, long-range ISR and counter-UAS capabilities, dramatically increasing the situational awareness and layered defense options available to the US Navy," said Michele Evans, vice president and general manager of LM's Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors division, in a canned quote. HELIOS is one of those endearingly American backronyms – it stands for High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance.

Exactly how the "high energy fibre laser" cannon will bring intelligence-gathering abilities to naval battles of the future is not specified, though Lockheed says data from the weapon will be displayed on the company's proprietary Aegis warship operating system.

One laser will be strapped to an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer for seaborne trials, with the other used for land testing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The drone-dazzling capability is a bit behind what the UK has specified for its rival Dragonfire zapper, as is being delivered by EU defence conglomerate MBDA's British subsidiary. The Dragonfire zapper is explicitly specified to be capable of destroying drones, building on work by MBDA's German arm which used proof-of-concept weapons to destroy drones at distances of 2.5km (1.6 miles).

No information was given about sharks accompanying the Lockheed Martin weapons.

The company has also recently been awarded a contract by BAE Systems to install Mk.41 missile silos into the Royal Navy's new Type 26 frigates. Those Vertical Launch System silos will consist of three cells with each housing up to eight missiles. ®

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