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Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress

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Congressional rept.

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Department of Defense DOD development work on high-energy military lasers, which has been underway for decades, has reached the point where lasers capable of countering certain surface and air targets at ranges of about a mile could be made ready for installation on Navy surface ships over the next few years. More powerful shipboard lasers, which could become ready for installation in subsequent years, could provide Navy surface ships with an ability to counter a wider range of surface and air targets at ranges of up to about 10 miles. These more powerful lasers might, among other things, provide Navy surface ships with a terminal-defense capability against certain ballistic missiles, including China s new anti-ship ballistic missile ASBM. The Navy and DOD have conducted development work on three principal types of lasers for potential use on Navy surface ships fiber solid state lasers SSLs, slab SSLs, and free electron lasers FELs. One fiber SSL prototype demonstrator developed by the Navy is the Laser Weapon System LaWS another Navy fiber SSL effort is called the Tactical Laser System TLS. Among DOD s multiple efforts to develop slab SSLs for military use was the Maritime Laser Demonstration MLD, a prototype laser weapon developed as a rapid demonstration project. The Navy has developed a lower-power FEL prototype and is now developing a prototype with scaled-up power. These lasers differ in terms of their relative merits as potential shipboard weapons. Although the Navy is developing laser technologies and prototypes of potential shipboard lasers, and has a generalized vision for shipboard lasers, the Navy currently does not have a program of record for procuring a production version of a shipboard laser, or a roadmap that calls for installing lasers on specific surface ships by specific dates.

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  • Directed Energy Weapons

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