US Navy Working on Paradigm Shift for Laser Weapons Electrical Needs

How can the U.S. Navy integrate electric weapons such as its new and emerging high-energy laser systems into warships while ensuring there is enough power for all ship systems and services?

It will take a paradigm shift that few have heard or seen before, according to Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) scientists and engineers.

Thomas ‘TJ’ McKelvey – an NSWC Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) engineer – is one of the few who have seen the beginnings of an emerging archetype. Moreover, he is working with his colleagues at NSWC Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) to make that shift a reality in the fleet.

McKelvey led a team of five NSWCPD engineers who traveled to Dahlgren in March 2021 to work with their counterparts to better understand the behavior and interconnections of directed energy, tactics, and power and thermal management systems in a naval combat environment.

It wasn’t the first time the principal engineer traveled to Dahlgren to engage in the development of power solutions for electric weapons aboard warships.

In 2019, he advised junior engineers from NSWCPD and NSWCDD as they collaborated to develop and demonstrate the potential of the Power and Energy Generation Analysis Simulation System (PEGASUS) to integrate high-powered electric weapons and electric propulsion systems aboard Navy ships.

“The team was able to demonstrate a combat system and control system coupled with machinery systems with live equipment –something that had never been done before,” said McKelvey, regarding his team’s collaboration with teams sponsored by the NSWC Dahlgren Sly Fox Program, which provides young professionals with an opportunity to solve real-world technical issues.

Now, NSWC officials plan to make the innovation that junior engineers envisioned and initiated – the integration of electric weapons and electric systems aboard ships – ubiquitous in the fleet.

“Electric power will be part of the weapon system” to enable the effective integration of high energy laser systems aboard ships – without disrupting power anywhere in a ship while lasers fire, said McKelvey.

The Navy is planning to integrate laser weapons aboard multiple platforms, including the DDG 51 class guided missile destroyers known for multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities and the follow-on DDG(X) design.

“Since the power systems will be integral to the weapons systems, they need to be treated differently aboard these ships,” said McKelvey. “It presents a lot of interesting engineering problems from the power to the thermal and control side. Whether it’s the DDG 51, DDG(X) or the LPD 17, a ship has a lot of unique limitations that need to be understood. We’re looking at energy storage and we’re developing modeling and simulation tools to answer questions in a digital environment while designing test and evaluation to bridge the integration gap.”

In March, engineers from NSWCPD traveled to Dahlgren and worked with engineers from NSWCDD’s Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department. The team instrumented and measured dynamic current, voltage and thermal characteristic data using the 50-kilowatt IPG Yttrium YLS-50000 laser at NSWCDD.

What’s more, the team collected thermal and electrical characteristics to support a process that helps ensure model accuracy and credibility. They are developing lessons learned for follow-on instrumentation and testing of the 300-kilowatt High Energy Laser Counter Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Project (HELCAP) test bed.

HELCAP evaluates, develops, experiments and demonstrates various laser technologies for a system that offers a capability to defeat anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).

“Mission-level analysis is ongoing to help guide how lasers will integrate into a layered defense as they provide unique advantages such as cost-effective engagement against high volume targets and precise, lethal effects against hard to kill threats such as ASCMs,” said Eric Thompson, NSWCDD High Energy Laser End to End Modeling principal investigator. “TJ’s team is performing the analysis to ensure ship machinery will provide services needed to enable these advantages.”

As NSWC scientists and engineers better understand the real-world performance, connections and interoperability of these systems, the Navy’s warfare center enterprise can do its part to drive down risks of future integration.

As directed energy weapons and next-generation sensor systems require more robust hotel power and energy systems to meet new demands, power becomes the foundation of the kill chain. Resilient and capable power is critical to rapidly fielding mission loads.

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