Navy planning to put laser weapons on helicopters

Expected to complement traditional weapons, the HELWS laser could be used to attack low threat targets or incoming projectiles.

Taking the next step in the development of fielded directed energy weapons, the Navy is looking to put laser guns into the air aboard helicopters.

In a presolicitation released yesterday, the Navy announced that the High Energy Fiber Laser (HELF) Project Office of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division is looking to procure systems engineering and technical assistance for the development of its High Energy Laser Weapons System (HELWS).

HELWS is envisioned to be an airborne directed energy weapon that would complement current kinetic weapons, according to the Office of Naval Research. The weapon is expected to be used in both defensive and offensive applications – such as attacking in target rich environments or conducting hard kills of man-portable air-defense systems.

The Navy is envisioning the laser as a low-cost-per-shot weapon to be used against low-end asymmetric threats, freeing up more traditional kinetic weapons to be used against more advanced threats. A deep magazine could also allow a single platform to engage more targets than is possible with traditional munitions – meaning that the Navy might be able to spend less on platforms, sorties and procuring kinetic weapons.

The entire weapon system consists of beam director, control, prime power and thermal management subsystems that would enable 25 kilowatts worth of directed laser energy.

The selected contractor would be responsible for developing and demonstrating prototypes of these subsystems, which would then be integrated and installed onto a helicopter for airborne laser weapons demonstrations, according to the solicitation.

Specifically, the Navy is looking for:

  • The completion of the integrations structure and the installation of subsystems.
  • The design, building, testing and qualifying of hardware and special test/handling equipment.
  • Qualification testing and analysis.
  • System engineering support and execution of system risk management.
  • The generation of drawings, technical reports and written procedures for testing.

The Navy anticipates a release date of Aug. 18 for the solicitation with an expected award date of Dec. 1, 2014. Only one award is expected to be made under the contract, according to Navy officials.

Directed energy weapons represent a growing trend in the Navy. Earlier this year, Navy officials announced plans to deploy a laser weapon aboard a ship this summer. More recently, ONR also awarded a contract for its Ground-based Air Defense Directed Energy On-the-move (GBAD) program, which would mount a laser on light tactical vehicles to counter unmanned aerial vehicles.