The multifunctional HELIOS combat laser system (High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance, high-energy laser with integrated blinding laser and surveillance) will be installed on the Arleigh Burke-type destroyer Preble this year and will begin testing at sea. Its main tasks will be the defeat of small ships and drones, conducting surveillance of remote objects and blinding the optical systems of opponents.
The combat laser system was successfully tested on Wallops Island with an area of six square miles in Accomack County, Virginia (part of the Virginia Barrier Islands stretching along the east coast of the United States), last fall. Its testing at sea will be a new stage of testing combat capabilities. The military plans to integrate HELIOS into the Aegis shipboard combat information and control system and include it in the weapons component.
Lockheed Martin has been developing HELIOS since 2018. It was planned to finish the work within three years, but a number of problems with technology and legislation forced the developer to extend the deadline for the execution of the program. Recall that lawmakers limited the service to the purchase of one HELIOS device per year until the Pentagon provides a detailed strategy for concluding contracts and acquisitions.
But recently, Lockheed Martin chief executive Janine Matthews, who oversees integrated combat systems, reported significant progress after HELIOS completed several breakthrough tests in the fall. The company now expects this weapon to be installed on board the Preble (DDG 88) and put to sea later this year. The tests should be carried out as soon as possible, otherwise problems with the further execution of the contract are expected.
The system consists of a combat laser with a power of 60 kilowatts, an optical subsystem for focusing the laser and observing remote objects, and a low-power laser blinding optical surveillance and guidance systems (thermal imagers or electron-optical cameras). Under the contract, Lockheed Martin can supply up to nine serial HELIOS to the US Navy.
The military considers the main advantage of laser weapons to be its virtually unlimited ammunition: the radiating installation shoots until it ceases to receive energy from the power source. It is also assumed that lasers will provide relatively cheap and at the same time reliable protection of ships from surface boats, light aircraft and drones.
The Research Department of the US Navy has been developing various lasers for several years, some of them have been successfully tested on board warships. The first prototype of a solid-state laser was installed on board the ship in 2014. Research is also being conducted on how the optical technology of directed energy weapons can contribute to the development of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance of the US Navy.
Currently, there is one combat laser installation in pilot operation of the US Navy. We are talking about the complex LaWS (Laser Weapon System, laser weapon system) installed on the landing ship-dock “Ponce” type “Austin”, which is part of the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy (in the area of responsibility of the western Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf). This year, not only Americans, but also the French are planning to test the laser at sea.