Navy Will Install High Energy Laser onto USS Preble

Source: Image: US Navy

The High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system will be installed onto the destroyer Preble in 2021.

The US Navy is preparing for a major upgrade straight out of science fiction. Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, the outgoing head of the surface warfare directorate at Chief of Naval Operations announced that the service intends to install a High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) system aboard the destroyer Preble in 2021.

The Rear Admiral compared the moment to Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez scuttling his own ships to motivate his men.

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“The key for us is HELIOS: A shipboard laser that will take the place of what we have now,” Boxall told Defense News, referring to weapons such as the Rolling Airframe Missile. “When Cortez burned his boats it was a message that they were going to win, and they were only going to win by going forward.”

HELIOS is a 60-kilowatt laser developed by Lockheed Martin (which also makes the Aegis combat system), with the option to grow to 150 kilowatts. When installed onto the Preble, the laser will be fully integrated into the ship’s combat and power systems. It will serve as the a close-in weapon, but it’s capable of more than shooting at things.

“A lot of people think that lasers are just something that shoots, but lasers are also a very good sensor. As you get closer to a radar, your radar gets worse. As you get closer to a laser, it gets better,” Boxall explained.

One of the biggest challenges will be to integrate the laser with Aegis so that it feeds high-fidelity sensor data to the system. That appears to be a higher priority than pushing the laser’s power potential at this time.

As the Navy continues to develop the system, it will grow closer to having a weapon that can destroy anti-ship cruise missiles at very close range. However, that would require a 500-kilowatt laser at a minimum, and the Navy is aiming to someday have 1 megawatt lasers installed.

“The laser being able to shoot down cruise missiles: that will happen,” said Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst Bryan Clark. “There’s not a particular technical challenge with that. It’s about developing a laser with the form factor that will fit on a ship and a ship with the power capacity to power it. That’s a doable proposition.”

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Steven is a pop culture junkie who regularly binges on sci-fi TV shows, movies, books, and video games before completely overthinking them.