In my new book, War At The Speed Of Light, I discuss why the US military is eager to deploy directed energy weapons, such as lasers. One important reason has to do with hypersonic (i.e., five or more times faster than the speed of sound) glide missiles, which no country currently can defend against. Potential US adversaries, like China and Russia, are developing and deploying hypersonic missiles as a means to destroy US aircraft, drones, missiles, aircraft carriers, and space-based assets, such as GPS and communication satellites. To counter this threat, the United States is developing and deploying laser weapons. However, the development of laser weapons is in its infancy. For example, in December 2014, the United States Navy installed the first-ever 30-kilowatt laser weapon on the USS Ponce. In field-testing, the United States Navy reported that the laser system worked perfectly against low-end asymmetric threats, such as small unmanned aerial vehicles. Following the field tests, the Navy authorized the commander of the Ponce to use the system as a defensive weapon. However, this is just the beginning. The US Navy’s strategy is to develop higher energy laser systems with the capability to destroy an adversary’s “carrier killer” missiles, as well as other asymmetric threats such as hypersonic missiles.

In January 2018, the Navy contracted Lockheed Martin for two HELIOS (High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance), which Lockheed delivered in 2021. These new lasers are capable of a 60-kilowatt laser beam, which is double the energy punch of the laser weapons deployed on the USS Ponce. The Navy intends to deploy one on the USS Dewey Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The other will be land-based at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for testing. This is an excerpt from Lockheed Martin’s press release:

MOORESTOWN, N.J., JANUARY 11, 2021 – This year, the U.S. Navy will field the first acquisition program to deploy the High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance, or HELIOS, a laser weapon system with high-energy fiber lasers for permanent fielding by the U.S. Department of Defense. This will be the only deployed laser system integrated into an operational Flight IIA DDG. This follows the Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and Navy’s recent demonstration of full laser power in excess of the 60 kW requirement. The scalable laser design architecture spectrally combines multiple kilowatt fiber lasers to attain high beam quality at various power levels.

In the 2020s, the US military plans to usher in the widespread use of laser weapons on land, sea, air, and space. It is reasonable to assume that these new lasers will continue the US military thrust to develop and deploy laser weapon systems capable of destroying an adversary’s hypersonic, intercontinental ballistic missiles, drone swarms, and space assets.