ARLINGTON, Va.— The U.S. Navy will test a new laser weapon aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious ship Portland as early as this fall, the service’s program manager announced Tuesday.
The integration of a laser with the Portland (LPD-27) will be the first such effort since the demonstrations of the prototype Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, aboard the amphibious transport dock ship Ponce in 2014.
At this point, the Navy has no plans to put a laser onto LPD-28, LPD-29 or the follow on LX amphibious transport dock, said Capt. Brian Metcalf, the program manager for LPD-17 and LX(R).
However, depending on the performance of the system, it could be onboard indefinitely, he said during a briefing at the Surface Navy Association symposium.
“My guess is if this works and they like it, it’s going to be there for a while. The ship is going to go use the thing, and then we’ll start talking about how do we make this part of the ship’s total system,” he said.
“We’re very excited about it. It’s supposed to install while I still own the ship and am responsible for it, and then we would turn it over to the fleet for capability wherever the commanders decide.”
As the official tasked with managing the construction of the ship, Metcalf said he didn’t know the specific power level or capability of the laser, which is a next-generation successor to LaWS developed by the Office of Naval Research.
The program office is still awaiting drawings from ONR so it can finalize its integration plans, he said. However, it has already been decided that the new laser will be bolted on the deck, with it and its power modules fitting into the space usually occupied by vertical launch cells.
“It’s not going to be integrated into the warfare system. It won’t be providing tracking data or classification data,” Metcalf said, though he added that such integration could be possible in the future.
The Navy also considered putting the weapon onboard an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer or America-class amphibious assault ship, but settled on the San Antonio-class after performing ship checks on the amphibious transport dock ship Arlington and other vessels to ensure they had enough space, cooling and power. The program office is now updating those calculations for the Portland, he said.
“The folks that made the decision in the fleet and operational leadership were presented the options for each of those classes and in terms of timing and capability because not every ship fits the window for when the laser will be ready,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of the story used an incorrect designation for USS Portland (LPD-27).
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.