DAHLGREN, Va. – The Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS) engineering team received the 2014 Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineers of the Year Award for groundbreaking research, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) announced June 19.
Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, presented the award to the NSWCDD team that researched, developed and installed the Laser Weapon System on USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15).
"These awards are a tribute to the exemplary scientists and engineers who dedicate their energy and talent to making sure our warfighters have the scientific and technological edge they need at sea, in the air and on the battlefield," said Office of Naval Research (ONR) Executive Director Dr. Walter Jones, after the Pentagon ceremony last week.
The Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineers Award recognizes Navy and Marine Corps civilian and military personnel for exceptional science and engineering achievements. Etter, formerly an assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, now presides over the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education at Southern Methodist University.
The NSWCDD LaWS Team award recipients were Joseph Barrasse, Ronald Flatley, Theresa Gennaro, David McCormick, David Newton, Melissa Olson, Dr. Robert Pawlak, Gunendran Sivapragasam, and David Sullins. In addition, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Putnam from the Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA) Ship Design & Engineering directorate received the award.
"We’re very proud of our Laser Weapon System Team," said Capt. Brian Durant, NSWCDD commanding officer. "This outstanding team worked long hours — many deployed away from home and family — to advance technology and enable the Navy's first deployment of a high energy laser weapon. Their achievements are the perfect example of NSWC Dahlgren Division's ability to design, develop, and install innovative and integrated solutions aboard warships."
Navy leaders have made directed-energy weapons a top priority to counter what they call asymmetric threats, including unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats that could be used to deny U.S. forces access to certain areas. High-energy lasers offer an affordable and safe way to target these threats at the speed of light with extreme precision and an unlimited magazine, experts say.
ONR officials announced in a Dec. 10, 2014 news release that LaWS —a cutting-edge weapon that brings significant new capabilities to America's Sailors and Marines — was for the first time successfully deployed and operated aboard a naval vessel in the Arabian Gulf.
The LaWS team worked with Sailors aboard Ponce to demonstrate a laser weapon working aboard a deployed U.S. Navy ship while operating seamlessly with existing ship defense systems.
During the tests, LaWS — a collaborative effort between ONR, NAVSEA, Naval Research Laboratory, NSWCDD, and industry partners — hit targets mounted aboard a speeding oncoming small boat, shot down a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and destroyed other moving targets at sea. Navy video of the testing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0DbgNju2wE?.
Ponce Sailors — trained by the NSWCDD team on LaWS operation — reported the weapon performed flawlessly, including in adverse weather conditions of high winds, heat and humidity. They noted the system exceeded expectations for both reliability and maintainability.
The system is operated by a video-game like controller, and can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options, from non-lethal measures such as optical "dazzling" and disabling, to lethal destruction if necessary. It could prove to be a pivotal asset against "asymmetric threats," which include small attack boats and UAVs.
NSWCDD, a NAVSEA warfare center division, is a premier research and development center that serves as a specialty site for weapon system integration. The command's unique ability to rapidly introduce new technology into complex warfighting systems is based on its longstanding competencies in science and technology, research and development, and test and evaluation.