SNA NEWS: Navy Leader Calls for Directed Energy Weapons on Every Ship

By Stew Magnuson
The USS Ponce

U.S. Navy photo

ARLINGTON, Virginia — It has been almost a decade since the Navy installed an experimental high energy laser weapon aboard the USS Ponce.

It is time the Navy finished deploying them on the rest of its ships — all of them, said Vice Adm. Brendan McLane, the new commander of the Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

“I am not content with the pace of directed energy weapons. We must deliver on the promise this technology gives us,” he said in a keynote speech at the Surface Navy Association's annual conference.

That includes both types of directed energy weapons — high powered lasers and high powered microwaves, he added.

The Navy installed the 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, on the then-43-year-old USS Ponce Austin-class amphibious transport vessel in 2014. The purpose, Navy leaders said at the time, was to shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles.

Today, the Navy is engaged in a high-stakes stand-off with Houthi rebels based in Yemen who are launching missiles and drones at ships in the Red Sea. McLane said some of the targets the Navy is destroying with conventional munitions in the Red Sea could be taken out with directed energy weapons.

The Navy in late 2022 also installed the 60-kilowatt HELIOS, or high energy laser with integrated optical-dazzler and surveillance, on a Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. HELIOS can render harmless drones in the air or on the surface.

“This capability will … increase offensive weapons on current and future platforms,” McLane said.

And because of their so-called “limitless magazine,” directed energy weapons could be a solution to current shortages of conventional munitions, he added.

McLane said he was there when LaWS was installed on the USS Ponce in Bahrain, and “a decade later, we still don’t have something on every ship. We need to accelerate this,” he said.

The Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet will advocate for the Navy to more rapidly field directed energy weapons aboard the fleet. “We will be the first navy to put lasers aboard all its ships,” McLane vowed.

“And not just sharks,” he quipped.

One of the platforms where the weapons would be a good fit is the Littoral Combat Ship, he added. “They are fast. They are maneuverable. If you could forward deploy them with lasers onboard, that would be a great complement,” he said.

McLane also advocated for accelerating the use of unmanned systems in the Navy. “Unmanned is an essential part of our future — a fact we prove every day through experimentation and prototyping,” he said.


Topics: Emerging Technologies

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