Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] new $150 million contract to develop and build two High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) weapon systems for the Navy marks several first including the first laser weapon fully integrated for the lifetime of a U.S. Navy ship.

The Navy awarded the contract in late January and expects the units to be delivered by FY 2020 (Defense Daily, Feb. 2). One is bound for land-based testing at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., but the other will be integrated on to an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer.

Artist rendering of Lockheed Martin's HELIOS laser weapons system. (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist rendering of Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS laser weapons system. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

The HELIOS system is made of three main capabilities: a high energy laser weapon to target small boats and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), integrated long-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, and a counter-UAS ISR dazzler capability. All of these capabilities and inputs are planned to be integrated into the destroyer’s Aegis Combat System (ACS).

The contract includes options that, if exercised, would raise the total value up to $942 million for additional HELIOS installations.

Colleen O’Rourke, a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), told Defense Daily via email the fixed price options cover up to 14 additional ship-based HELIOS.

Iain McKinnie, the company’s business development lead for laser development systems, told reporters in a press call that HELIOS will not be a prototype, but a crew operational capability.

He said this builds on the 30-kilowatt (kW) Laser Weapons System (LaWS) tested on the USS Ponce Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) (AFSB(I)). LaWS was tested on the Ponce for three years while it served in the Middle East and was testing against small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and small boats (Defense Daily, March 29, 2017).

In January the Navy announced its latest San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the USS Portland (LPD-27), will test an Office of Naval Research (ONR) next-generation follow-on to the LaWS (Defense Daily, Jan. 10). Both LaWS and the expected follow-on are bolted on to the ship and not integrated into the ship’s warfare systems.

McKinnie noted the Navy put together the LaWS system itself, largely from equipment commercially available in the laser and optics communities. This used multiple lasers from the machining industry all focused on a single target.

In contrast, HELIOS is a 60-150 kW single laser beam that will be integrated on to an Arleigh Burke destroyer for its lifetime with full operational capability, will feed ISR data into the combat system, and adds a C-UAS ISR dazzler function. The dazzler function works to help confuse or reduce the ISR sensor abilities of a hostile UAS/drone.

The first HELIOS is being planned to be installed on the front of the ship and McKinnie said using a single beam allows more power on target to make it more lethal at longer ranges.

Lockheed Martin is giving the wide kW range because it is developing lasers for all military services to be modular and highly scalable. That means the power can be increased greatly over time if you add more modules but this also maintains multiple points of failure.

“Therefore, if you lose one of those modules in operation you can continue to use the laser with a pretty minimal reservation in performance. So an initial capability can be scaled quite significantly,” McKinnie said.

He noted if the options are exercised for additional HELIOS units, it would “be the first time that multiple laser weapon systems, of the same kind, are integrated on a number of ships.”

McKinnie said the company is drawing on several past systems for this program including the ACS experience and the Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI) 60 kW laser delivered to the Army last year.

He said RELI is the highest power on target electric laser ever developed “and so that gave us very high confidence that we could move ahead and make our HELIOS offering to the Navy.”

“The HELIOS program is the first of its kind” and with the joint capabilities is “dramatically increasing the situational awareness and layered defense options available to the U.S. Navy,” Michele Evans, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s integrated warfare systems and sensors, said in a statement.

Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at the company, said their “spectral beam combined fiber lasers bring flexibility and adaptability to defensive and offensive missions.”

“Our design is scalable, and we can optimize it to meet requirements for future increments,” he added.

O’Rourke clarified HELIOS is Increment 1 for the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) program and said it was awarded under one year from program initiation.

This is “demonstrating the U.S. Navy’s commitment to accelerating delivery of transformational capability to the Fleet,” she said.

HELIOS will be integrated into both the ACS and shipboard power and cooling aboard Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

“HELIOS will provide a means to address the proliferation of low-cost asymmetric threats and emerging technologies that present challenges to the US Navy,” while later increments of SNLWS will use further technological advancements to enable the U.S. Navy to continue to maintain operational and technological superiority over potential adversaries, O’Rourke said.