The US Navy is working on laser weapons in the Middle East to counteract a significant upsurge in Iran’s deployment and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the region, top Central Command (CENTCOM) naval officer and US Fifth Fleet commander Vice Adm. Bradley Cooper said.
“There is a growth in the missile defense force and in cruise missiles and Iranian UAVs and the proliferation of those UAVs throughout the region,” Cooper told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Friday. “There has been a dramatic uptick in the UAD activity in the region: it is significantly different.”
In response, the Fifth Fleet is deploying and developing the use of laser, or directed energy weapons on its warships in the region, Cooper said, adding that he was not going to reveal any details of the work.
The US Navy is developing “laser weapons on warships in the region. This is an area we are working on pretty vibrantly. For understandable reasons, I am not going to talk about it,” Cooper said.
Starting in September of 2021, the Fifth Fleet had activated Task Force 59 as its unmanned vehicles and intelligence task force in the region operated out of Bahrain and Jordan and the operation had already “exceeded our every expectation” with unmanned sea vehicles launched out of the port of Akaba at the southwestern tip of Jordan capable of functioning for up to 33 days at a time, Cooper added.
Earlier in December last year, US Navy’s USS Portland tested a laser weapon by shooting at a floating target in the Middle-east, the US Navy had announced on December 15.
The US claimed that the laser weapon system, seen as the “most powerful one” to be deployed on an operational vessel, can be used against armed drone boats operated by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.
The weapon, officially called the Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) Mk2 Mod 0, was received by the USS Portland in late 2019. It was first tested by the vessel in May 2020 to shoot down a small drone in the Pacific Ocean.
On December 14, the USS Portland test-fired the LWSD at the target in the Gulf of Aden, which separates East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.
According to the US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th fleet, the laser weapon “engaged” the target during the course of the demonstration. It did not specify the extent of damage incurred by the target or if it was destroyed as a result of the firing.
“The LWSD [Laser Weapon System Demonstrator] is considered a next-generation follow-on to the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) that afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) tested for three years while operating in the Middle East,” according to a Navy release on the demonstration in the Gulf of Aden.
“The region’s geography, climate, and strategic importance offer a unique environment for technology innovation,” the release read.
The LWSD Mk 2 Mod 0 was developed by Northrop Grumman for the US Navy as part of the Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) program and is a 150-kilowatt class laser weapon.
“By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs and small crafts, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,”, Capt. Karrey Sanders, the previous commanding officer was quoted as saying by Business Insider. “With this new advanced capability, we are redefining war at sea for the Navy.”
According to various media reports, the Houthis have placed unmanned boats into the waters which can be operated piloted remotely and can be sent to the target’s location before detonating.
Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) conducted a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration, Dec. 14, while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. Read more ⬇️https://t.co/nYWqgtbLdQ pic.twitter.com/L0xfysIG1q
— U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet (@US5thFleet) December 15, 2021
In 2018, UAE officials shared video footage of a drone boat claiming Iranian equipment was used in the boat’s guidance system. A hat was also visible in the background of one picture displaying the symbol of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. However, Iran expectedly rejected the accusations.
Laser Weapons – Game Changer?
Laser weapons are gaining tremendous importance especially after the global ‘drone menace’ has increased and can change the course of the battle as seen during the Armenia-Azerbaijan war.
Lasers provide the massive advantage of speed, stealth, precision and also a “virtually infinite magazine”. They also prove to be more cost-efficient due to their low ‘cost per shot’.
While laser weapons do not have the “kinetic pushback” effect, even a weak laser is beam could possibly disrupt the hostile missiles with great precision. Powerful laser weapons can further decimate a missile’s flight control fins and can also thermally trigger their warheads.
Having laser weapons provides any army with the convenience of not having to transport enormous amounts of ammunition. As the fierce energy of laser weapons comes directly from the systems’ power sources such as generators or batteries, there is no need to carry munitions to places that are sensitive to attacks.
This also reduces the cargo, resulting in less equipment requirement and more stealthy movement of troops.
Such energy weapons are also required for providing a closer layer of defense which is crucial for the penetration of stealth bombers such as the B-2 or the forthcoming B-21 into enemy airspaces.
Currently, the B-2 relies on its stealth for entering the enemy’s defense zones but lacks the required defense systems against missile interceptors which can shoot down the bomber once it is spotted on the radar.
If laser weapons are used in considerable numbers, the current situation where stealth fighters equipped with beyond visual range missiles are favored may change. This is because many missiles are employed to achieve a kill whereas, with laser weapons, one can hardly dodge a beam of laser owing to its high velocity and accuracy.
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US Navy Actively Deploying Laser Weapons In The Middle-East To Counter Hostile Drone Activity – CENTCOM Admiral