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Contracting Blasts into Future with Laser Weaponry

ship-mounted-beam-weaponsThe U.S. Navy is ready to ride a wave of new technology into the future of combat.

According to a report by New Scientist, the U.S. Navy has given the greenlight to designs for a shipboard laser “that it hopes will focus a 100-kilowatt beam through the ocean mist.”

The product is based on an invention devised several decades ago by John Madey.  The free-electron laser (FEL) operates by generating light a beam of electrons.

“The Free Electron Laser will use a ship’s electrical power to create, in effect, unlimited ammunition and provide the ultra-precise, speed-of-light capability required to defend U.S. naval forces against emerging threats, such as hyper-velocity cruise missiles,” said Gary Fitzmire, vice president and program director of Boeing Directed Energy Systems, who authored the Navy’s plan. “The successful completion of this preliminary design review is an important milestone in developing a weapon system that will transform naval warfare.”

While Boeing was performing the preliminary design review earlier in March in Northern Virginia, the firm showed off the plan to several dozen government and National Laboratory reps.  According to Boeing, “this electric laser will operate by passing a beam of high-energy electrons through a series of powerful magnetic fields, generating an intense emission of laser light that can disable or destroy targets.”

But Boeing isn’t the only contractor with their hand in the laser weapon honeypot.  Last year, Northrop Grumman Maritime claimed a deal valued at just under $98 million with a five-year timetable to provide a  Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD) .  Northrop, in a statement issued in January, say MLD has passed two milestone reviews by the Office of Naval Research, pointing to the future success of the program.

“These reviews indicate that our MLD design should meet the Navy’s objectives in future demonstrations,” said Steve Hixson, vice president of Advanced Concepts – Space and Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector. “Next we will finalize detailed test plans and move into land-based, live fire tests.”

The next phase of the plan for NGC will be to take their product out on the water for a real-world demonstration.

While Boeing and Northrop work on the best way to blast targets on the high seas, the rest of the private sector can bank on a new realm of opportunity.

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