Directed Energy Weapons: Counter Directed Energy Weapons and High Energy Lasers

Directed energy weapons (DEWs) are defined as electromagnetic systems capable of converting chemical or electrical energy to radiated energy and focusing it on a target, resulting in physical damage that degrades, neutralizes, defeats, or destroys an adversarial capability. Navy DEWs include systems that use High Energy Lasers (HEL) that emit photons, and High Power Microwaves (HPM) that release radiofrequency waves. The U.S. Navy uses DEWs for power projection and integrated defense missions. The ability to focus the radiated energy reliably and repeatedly at range, with precision and controllable effects, while producing measured physical damage, is the measure of DEW system effectiveness. Conversely, capabilities to increase the resilience or survivability of platforms or Sailors from DEW threats are part of the Counter Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW) program.

The Office of Naval Research has three weapons-oriented research concentration areas: High Power Microwaves (HPM); Ultra-Short Pulse Laser (USPL) and Atmospheric Characterization; and Counter-Directed Energy Weapons and High Energy Lasers (CDEW & HEL).

Research Concentration Area: CDEW and HEL

High energy lasers (HELs) lasers and high-power microwaves (HPM) systems as weapons have been under investigation since the 1960s and 70s. As an example of naval platform survivability and self-defense against small boat threats, the Office of Naval Research developed and tested the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), the first laser weapon system operated at sea. ONR and NRL later worked collaboratively with the Naval Sea Systems Command on the Solid State Laser Quick Reaction Capability Program (SSL-QRC) to actively deploy the first military HEL, the Laser Weapons System (LaWS) on the USS Ponce. Today, HEL research continues to offer breakthroughs in performance for continuous wave (CW) laser weapons.

The Counter-Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW) Program was initiated in response to the rapid development of high energy lasers (HEL) and high-power microwave (HPM)/high-power radio frequency (HPRF) threats being developed by potential foreign adversaries. The ONR Counter Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW) research program expands the understanding of the known sciences through both research and component testing to increase survivability and self-defense capabilities for U.S. Navy platforms. Directed energy weapons technology advancements and proliferation has raised the urgency of developing low-cost CDEW technologies for rapid deployment to Navy units. The ONR CDEW program addresses emerging directed energy threats in an operational, maritime construct containing three layers of defense: DEW detection, DEW effects mitigation, and unit protection.

Research Challenges and Opportunities

  • Scientific modeling and simulation of effects of HPRF and HEL capabilities against materials, electronics, sensors, and platforms in a maritime environment. These include high fidelity modeling, simulation and experimentation of material responses that lead to validated target-damage assessments or alternative mechanisms offering controlled, optimized effects during dynamic engagements.
  • The simulation and validation of CW laser beams’ optical performance and material (including metamaterials) responses in complex aero-thermal and aero-optics conditions, or that offers related aperture optical coating toughness, is of interest.
  • Novel instrumentation for detection of HEL and HPRF irradiation, including component development or the modeling and sensing of low level laser irradiation for off-axis (off-target directed) detection, characterization and source geo-location.
  • HEL and HPRF mitigation and protection components, including novel filters, signal-noise mitigation and utilizing material obscurants. Techniques to synthetically degrade the atmosphere for directed energy propagation are of interest, or where they otherwise provide protection to sensors, electronic systems, platforms and naval personnel. Efforts proposed for this research challenge should have clear and understandable scientific, technical or operational merits for use in the maritime environments where naval platforms (air, surface, subsurface, Marine, etc.) operate and might encounter adversaries that utilize directed energy capabilities.
  • HEL and HPM protection methods, including laser material hardening and electronic hardening, such as the development of metamaterials, nano scale materials, and nonlinear materials that enhance and ensure platform survival, operation and integrity. Research includes, but is not limited to, toughening and protection methods for electronic/optical subsystem or functions like communications, navigation, and ISR sensor subsystems, and for occupant protection. Research related to active and passive circuit protection that limit HPRF attack effectiveness.
  • For HEL, research leading to novel naval laser subsystem, beam director and fire control architectures, including advanced design power architectures for low-duty cycle and CW laser applications offering advantages of reduced size, weight and power with cooling (SWAP-C) to reduce naval platform integration impact. Of particular interest are CW laser components, offering higher brightness with high power beam combining technologies, or controlled micro-channel optical component cooling methods for the reduction of thermal distortions leading to high beam quality. Additionally, research leading to improvements in DEW system tracking sensors, target illuminators and automated target recognition components performance or robustness offering high accuracy pose/trajectory estimation, including those which offer tracking through intermittent or partial obscured maritime viewing conditions. Efforts proposed to this research challenge should have clear and understandable merit for use in the maritime environments where naval platforms operate.

Type of Funding Available

  • Basic Research
  • Applied Research

Program Contact Information

Name: Peter Morrison

Title: Program Officer

Department: Code 351

Email for Questions:

Program Funding

Submit white papers, QUAD charts and full proposals for contracts to this email address: ONR Code 35 Research Submissions

Follow instructions within BAA for submission of grant proposals to website.

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