Directed Energy Systems in April 2011 successfully showed how laser weapons can protect the U.S. Navy's fleet from small boat threats. In Pacific Ocean tests, employees fired the Maritime Laser Demonstrator from a moving Navy test ship over a three-day period, tracking and setting on fire multiple, small, unmanned boat targets.
The laser weapon, built for the Office of Naval Research, was fired at high power more than 35 times, using only the test ship's electricity. The Maritime Laser Demonstrator withstood actual maritime conditions that Navy ships operate in daily, including eight-foot waves, winds of 25 knots, rain and fog.
The open ocean tests, conducted off San Nicolas Island at a Navy test range, accomplished several directed energy "firsts." The Maritime Laser Demonstrator became the:
- First Navy laser system to go to sea, installed on a decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer, for the program's culminating demonstration;
- First Navy laser system to be integrated with a ship's radar and navigation system; and
- First electric laser weapon to be fired at sea from a moving platform. Other tests of solid-state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions.
Results of the at-sea tests will be used by the Navy to help guide engineering manufacturing development phase of a Navy laser weapon system and transition it to a program of record for up to eight classes of ships the Navy has identified as likely platforms.