The Navy’s newest San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the USS Portland (LPD-27), is planned to test a new laser demonstrator as early as this fall and will also serve as the flagship in the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, an official said today.
The Portland, built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] Ingalls Shipbuilding, is currently undergoing post-delivery tests and trials and combat systems qualifications while sailing to its home port of San Diego, Capt. Brian Metcalf, program manager for the LPD-17 and LX(R) class ships, said here at a media briefing during the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium.
It is set to arrive there later this month before then traveling to Portland, Ore., for its commissioning ceremony on April 21.
Metcalf highlighted the Navy will be adding an Office of Naval Research (ONR) laser demonstrator weapon on the Portland as soon as Fall 2018.
Although it will be installed while he has responsibility for the ship, he explained “this is an ONR product and it’s going to fit into what was originally the VLS (Vertical Launch System) reservation on the ship,” Metcalf said.
ONR has power modules to control the laser that will fit in the open and reserve weight spaces.
Metcalf said the laser weapon will then be bolted on to the ship, like a similar weapon was on the USS Ponce Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) (AFSB(I)). It will not be integrated into the Portland’s warfare systems, or provide tracking or classification data.
He clarified that as a technology demonstrator, the laser will be a next-generation follow-on to the 30-kilowatt Laser Weapons System (LaWS) tested on the Ponce for three years while it served in the Middle East. That system was tested against UAVs and small boats (Defense Daily, March 29, 2017).
The laser improvement will be internal to the demonstrator weapons and is not a change in relation to the ship, he added.
Metcalf said he did not know how long it would be fielded on the LPD, but underscored nobody knew how long the LaWS would serve on the Ponce.
“So my guess is if this works and they like it, it’s going to be there for a while. The ship’s going to go use the thing and then we’ll start talking about how do we make this part of the ship’s total ship system. But for now it’s a bolt on and it’s designed to be a temporary thing,” he said.
However, he said “right now I am not making a plan to take it off.”
Because it is just a technology demonstrator bolted to the ship, Metcalf said there are no plans for follow-on LPDs -28 or -29 to add a similar laser system.
Metcalf said the Portland was chosen only after a set of ship checks that compared the LPDs, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and America-class amphibious assault ships. These checks looked at power, cooling, space and weight margins, air conditioning, and other factors.
After the Navy settled on the LPD, it chose the Portland thanks to its schedule and availability in relation to when the laser would be ready.
Separately, Metcalf said 3rd Fleet has selected the Portland as the flagship in the international 2018 RIMPAC maritime exercise being held in Hawaii.
After the ship is commissioned in Portland, it will conduct its combat systems trials in Hawaii. Then it will stay for several extra weeks to participate in RIMPAC before going back to San Diego.
All of these operations are planned to occur before the Portland is even transferred to the fleet, when he still “owns” it, Metcalf said.