Asia Defense | Security

US Navy to Install Laser Weapon on Littoral Combat Ship

The littoral combat ship USS Little Rock will be fitted with a laser weapon during its upcoming deployment.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US Navy to Install Laser Weapon on Littoral Combat Ship
Credit: U.S. Navy/Wikipedia

The Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS) USS Little Rock (LCS-9) will get a new laser weapon system during an upcoming deployment some time later this year, according to the Commander of U.S. Naval Surface Forces Vice Admiral Richard Brown.

U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) News reported on January 13 that U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin is set to install a 150-kilowatt laser weapon system aboard the LCS. The laser weapon will reportedly be used for defense against incoming unnamed aerial vehicles and other small aircraft. It could also be deployed against smaller surface vessels like speedboats.

Neither the U.S. Navy nor Lockheed Martin revealed additional details of the type of laser weapon to be installed aboard the USS Little Rock.  In the past, the U.S. Navy installed laser weapons for evaluation and testing on the amphibious transport dock ships USS Portland and USS Ponce, as well as the guided missile destroyer USS Dewey.

According to USNI News, the Navy is conducting research on a number of different laser weapon systems including the Solid-State Laser – Technology Maturation system (SSL-TM), the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS), and the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN). While SSL-TM has been designed for amphibious assault ships, the HELIOS will reportedly be installed aboard guided-missile destroyers.

The USS Little Rock was commissioned in December 2017. It was the ninth LCS to enter service with the U.S. Navy and the fifth of the Freedom-class variant.

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LCSs are divided into two separate variants, the trimaran hull Independence and mono hull Freedom classes. Ships of the Freedom-class variant are built by a Lockheed Martin team at Marinette in Wisconsin, while production of Independence-class LCSs is led by Austal USA in Alabama. They each are capable of building up two LCS per year. As I noted previously:

[W]ith 40 percent of the hull reconfigurable, both LCS variants use an open architecture design, enabling the warships to be fitted with interchangeable so-called mission packages providing capabilities for surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and mine countermeasures (MCM) missions in the littoral zone.

The ASW warfare package was expected to become available to the fleet last year, while the MCM package will reportedly be available in 2020.

Lockheed Martin has been working on improving the combat capabilities of both LCS variants in a two-phased plan. According to the Pentagon’s office of Operational Test and Evaluation neither the Independence nor Freedom variants are suitable for high-intensity combat.

The USS Little Rock is based in Mayport, Florida and will most probable join the Navy’s 4th Fleet, responsible for Central and South America.