In February of 2015, the Boeing Company received a contract from the United States Navy for developing a beam control system for laser weapons. Worth USD$29.5 million, the contract is part of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)’s Solid State Laser Technology Maturation program (SSL TM). Established in 2012, the program researches the weaponization potential of laser technology on-board naval ships.
Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, or LASER, technology was invented in 1960. Military lasers’ earliest incarnation involved the use of chemicals (namely, deuterium fluoride) which produced the first MW-class HEL weapons test bed - the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser. This technology was used in experiments at the White Sands Missile Range in the 1980s. However, the Navy was reluctant to rely on dangerous chemicals in a maritime environment and the ONR shifted towards utilizing solid-state chemicals combined with a light source (typically LEDs) to produce focused, long-range energy. In 2011, the Navy, in collaboration with Northrop Grumman, conducted the first successful laser test on-board a naval ship - known as the Maritime Laser Demonstration - and took out a small boat.
Boeing’s High Power Beam Control Subsystem (HP BCSS) will be instrumental in precisely guiding laser beams towards its intended target (particularly useful in moving maritime environments). The HP BCSS will be broadly compatible across all systems based on solid-state High Energy Lasers. Boeing has previously worked with the United States Army on laser system development for their High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) in 2014. During this experiment, the functionality of the HEL MD was proven in inclement weather conditions such as fog, rain, and wind. Boeing will use data collected from this program to inform their new project with the US Navy.
Although the military has been researching laser applications since the technology’s inception, most major breakthroughs have taken place fairly recently. Another past achievement includes the successful tracking and contact on an unmanned aerial vehicle in 2009 under the US Navy’s Laser Weapon System program. In 2014, the systems under this program were declared operational and are currently deployed upon the USS Ponce.
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