The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is a High Energy Laser prototype that capitalized on recent advancements in commercial off-the-shelf fiber laser technology. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the Office of Naval Research began developing LaWS in 2007, utilizing a cross-warfare center collaboration effort between Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Division (NSWC PHD). The system was installed aboard USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) in 2014, becoming the first-ever Department of Defense laser-weapon system approved for operational use and deployment.
Installing LaWS on a Navy ship resulted in a unique challenge; integrating a research and development prototype laser-weapon system that was designed to be maintained and operated by engineers and scientists into a surface combatant for operational use and sustainment by Sailors.
NSWCDD and NSWC PHD engineers worked to identify the best process for rapid ship integration and sustainment. In early 2014, NSWC PHD in-service and test engineers leveraged LaWS integration testing for opportunities to familiarize themselves with the system; developed installation and check out procedures; and provided sustainment insights and lessons learned from other programs to the LaWS team. The NSWC PHD team cultivated best practices for installation; system operational verification testing; reliability-centered maintenance; and reliability, availability, maintainability, and cost analyses to help develop the sustainment strategy to ensure system effectiveness and supportability once deployed.
The LaWS deployment aboard a naval ship successfully proved the viability of employing a laser against representative threats in a harsh maritime environment. The system was removed from USS Ponce prior to her decommissioning in October. In January 2018, the Navy announced a next-generation upgrade would be installed aboard USS Portland later this year for a historic demonstration test, paving the way for laser weapon integration across the fleet.