A photo from one of our awesome commenters, James Milliken, shows the American Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) outfitted with a new turreted system installed on its forward close-in weapon system pedestal—an area usually left open on the majority of Flight IIA Arleigh Burke class destroyers. The image was taken in San Diego very recently. The use of Dewey for integrating new technologies isn't surprising. The ship has been used to test cutting edge capabilities, like the temporarily installed Laser Weapon System (LaWS) and the firing of Hyper-Velocity Projectiles, although what we are seeing in the image above is a far more permanent capability.
The installation looks most like renderings of Lockheed's HELIOS laser system, which is set to be installed in that position on an Arleigh Burke class destroyer for its initial fielding, but that is supposed to be at least a couple of years out from occurring. The Ruggedized High Energy Laser (RHEL), a similar effort, is also in the works, but the installation of such a highly integrated system at this time also seems outside of that program's schedule.
The Navy has three other shipboard laser programs underway beyond these two as part of its Navy Laser Family of Systems (NLFoS) initiative and its periphery programs. Just last month, The War Zone
was first to report that Northrop Grumman shipped its Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) system to San Diego under curious circumstances. It will be installed on the amphibious transport dock USS Portland for trials.
High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP) is another that looks to leverage the various components of NLFoS to develop a laser system capable of rapidly engaging anti-ship cruise missiles. But, by our analysis, the most likely answer to what we are seeing on Dewey is the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN) system, which was set to be installed on a Navy destroyer by the end of this year.
ODIN is a lower power laser system that will be used to blind enemy electro-optical and infrared sensor systems by shining a modulated "dazzler" laser beam at them in a similar manner as to how directed infrared countermeasure (DIRCM) systems work to defend aircraft from heat-seeking missiles. ODIN will be capable of countering ship and boat-based systems, those used by aircraft and drones, and even those used by anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.
Currently, electronic countermeasures, both expendable, like Nulka decoys, and not, like SLQ-32 SWEIP and the newer shadowy SLQ-59, are capable at countering radar-guided missiles, but anti-ship missile systems are increasingly using passive infrared guidance, or even a mix of the two, for terminal homing. That leaves those other systems useless against them. A dazzler, on the other hand, could blind these missiles, sending them off course or into the sea as they make their kamikaze attack runs. Anti-ship ballistic missiles, namely those belonging to the Chinese, are posited to use some form of infrared terminal guidance, as well.
The Navy has been aggressive about fielding the ODIN system as fast as possible. Two of these systems are scheduled to be installed on destroyers by the end of this year, with six more being fielded, or in the process of being fielded, by the following year. See the 2020 budget documents below for more details about this plan.
With only so many places to mount directed energy systems on surface combatants, eventually, a solution that pairs the dazzler and a high-energy kill laser system together may be more ideal. This is the concept behind Lockheed's HELIOS. On the other hand, a laser can only be pointed at one thing at one time, so it is possible that as the technology miniaturizes, multiple laser dazzlers could be dispersed around a ship to help counter multiple, simultaneous threats. This is similar to what has occurred with DIRCM systems on aircraft.
Regardless, it's clear that the Arleigh Burke class's striking profile is about to change, with ODIN laser dazzlers being the first directed energy weapons fielded across multiple destroyers.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com