The U.S. Navy has deployed a warship armed with its first laser weapon defense system capable of blinding and distracting enemy drones.
Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said in a Feb. 20 report that the Navy’s Optical Dazzling Interdictor, or ODIN laser weapon, was recently installed on the USS Dewey guided missile destroyer.
The new laser-based drone defense system is capable of tracking, disabling and jamming the sensors of enemy drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), according to a Congressional Research Service report (pdf) from December 2019, titled “Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile.”
“The weapon will also feed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data into the ship’s combat system and provide a counter-UAS (C-UAS) ISR dazzler capability,” the report states, referring to ODIN and the Navy’s HELIOS—High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-Dazzler and Surveillance system. “The dazzler uses a lower power setting to confuse or reduce ISR capabilities of a hostile UAS.”
“Going from an approved idea to installation in two and a half years, ODIN’s install[ment] on Dewey will be the first operational employment of the stand-alone system that functions as a dazzler,” NAVSEA said in a news release. “The system allows the Navy to rapidly deploy an important, new capability to the Navy’s surface force in combating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) threats.”
The Office of Naval Research’s Laser Weapon System was the first to be deployed on the USS Ponce in 2014.
The ODIN program will be deployed throughout the Navy’s fleet over the next two years as part of its anti-drone defense, NAVSEA said, adding that lessons learned from ODIN’s installation will be used to inform installation on future vessels and further development and implementation of Surface Navy Laser Weapon Systems.
The announcement follows comments from Michael Griffin, the U.S. defense undersecretary for research and engineering, who in 2018 said the nation was “…no more than a few years away from having laser weapons of military utility.”
At the time, the development of the technology was “within a factor of two or three of being useful on a battlefield, airplane or ship,” Griffin said, according to Defense One.
“We need to have 100-kilowatt-class weapons on Army theater vehicles. We need to have 300-kilowatt-class weapons on Air Force tankers,” he added. “We need to have megawatt-class directed energy weapons in space for space defense. These are things we can do over the next decade if we can maintain our focus.”