Pew-pew-pew is coming soon-soon-soon.
The U.S. Navy plans to put a laser weapon on a warship by 2021. The High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) system, or HELIOS, is a defensive weapon system designed to burn boats and shoot down unmanned drones. The weapon will go to sea with a guided missile destroyer assigned to the Pacific Fleet in two years' time, the Navy says.
The service placed an order for HELIOS in January 2019. The $150 million contract, awarded to Lockheed Martin, calls for the company to deliver two systems. According to a , one will go to in New Mexico for testing. says the Navy will install the other on a Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.
HELIOS is a 60-kilowatt laser system, meaning it has twice the power of the installed on the USS Ponce in 2014. HELIOS is billed as a weapon that can burn small speed boats of the type Iran , and can torch unmanned aerial vehicles out of the sky. Alternately—and perhaps to avoid an international incident—HELIOS can simply “dazzle” a UAV’s electro-optical sensors, damaging them and preventing them from performing their mission.
Here’s a simple example of this theory, in which a laser used during tattoo removal damages a digital camera sensor:
HELIOS has a long-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. While LockMart doesn’t spell out the details, we can surmise that the aiming system for the laser weapon/dazzle is probably capable of high-definition, high-powered digital magnification, allowing a ship fitted with it to closely watch nearby threats.
Many weapons already deployed on U.S. Navy warships, including the close-in weapon system and the , have a similar capability against small boats and drones as HELIOS while also being capable of taking on larger, faster aircraft and missiles. Range is also comparable.
Where a laser weapon like HELIOS shines, literally, is its ability to fire a theoretically unlimited number of shots using the destroyer’s onboard electrical generation systems. Phalanx, on the other hand, is limited to 20 to 30 seconds of continuous firing, while RAM is limited to 21 missiles aboard the Mk. 49 Guided Missile Launching System.
HELIOS is not a quantum leap above existing systems, but then again, early guns like the matchlock were in some ways inferior to the bow and arrow. Eventually, as firearms technology progressed, the gunpowder gun progressed to the point where it was clearly superior. As laser weapons become more powerful, they could quickly become much more effective than conventional gun and missile weapons.