The US Navy is working on four separate laser-based weapons systems and has requested the government for a budget of about $300m (£216m) to develop them under the Navy Laser Family of Systems.
Navy wants these weapons developed in the near term and installed on ships to defend against smaller threats like drones, unmanned ships, speed boats called fast inshore attack craft, reports Popular Mechanics. These threats although unlikely to sink a destroyer can harass, damage, spy and be pesky.
The Navy Laser Family could also include 150kilowatt weapons that can disable incoming missiles or even deter enemy aircraft, adds the report.
Project 3402 is the first of the four weapons the Navy is working on. It is also called the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System — part of the 60-kilowatt-or-higher class. As of now, it is an advanced prototype that is slated to be installed on the USS Arleigh Burke. It could reach three destroyers in the coming days. It is expected to be used for Anti-Surface Warfare, Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Counter-Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
Developed as a solid state laser, the Navy wants to use 3402 to dazzle and destroy drones and fast inshore attack craft. This weapon gets $190m from the 2019 budget and the Navy expects to field them in 2020.
Optical Dazzling Interdictor is a low power module that is designed to primarily blind drones and other unmanned systems that are currently used to spy on ships at sea. The report mentions that two interdictors have already received their funding and that the 2019 budget covers the development of three more. This weapon gets $44m from the 2019 Navy budget.
Another solid state weapon is also being built for a San Antonio-class ship in 2019. It will be a heavy 150 kilowatt laser, notes the report.
The fourth laser weapon that the Navy is working on is the Ruggedized High Energy Laser — a 150kilowatt laser, but will be built using a different architecture than the other big laser guns. The report suggests a modular weapon that can be upgraded to a higher capacity laser in the future.
What did not get any funding this year was the railgun. After reports emerged that the project was dropped in favour of Hyper Velocity Projectiles instead, this omission from the budget proposal seems to have officially killed it.