Update: MATRIX Tactical Laser Weapon Demonstrates Counter-Swarm Techniques

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Following a U.S. Navy award in March, to build a tactical laser system for naval applications, BAE Systems and Boeing have teamed to develop a system demonstrator utilizing Mk 38 Mod 2 remotely controlled weapon station, originally developed and produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Sytems of Israel. In a recent test conducted at the Eglin AFB, Florida the TLS demonstrated a capability to identify and classify hostile targets and provide rapid hand-off to the laser weapon for target interdiction. The laser weapon consists of a Boeing 10kW fiber-laser developed by International Photonic Group (IPG), coupled with the Air Force Research lab (AFRL) Mobile Active Targeting Resource for Integrated Experiments (MATRIX) system, a mobile beam control and fire control solution also developed by Boeing.

Boeing and BAE Systems will develop a tactical laser weapon demonstrator employing a dual-weapon Mk38 Mod2 system mounting the standard M242 Bushmaster gun and a powerful laser weapon, capable of generating various levels of energy, to counter small surface targets or air threats. (Photo: BAE Systems)

In a recent demonstration sponsored by the Commander of the U.S. Second Fleet the TLS fired against air and surface maritime targets, demonstrating a range of target effects. Additionally, swarm tests were conducted to simulate an attack by a large number of fast, maneuvering small boats, intermingled with neutral boat traffic. These tests demonstrated a consistent ability to detect, track, classify and engage threat vessels at tactically relevant ranges.

For the Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System (TLS) demonstration BAE Systems integrated the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) MATRIX laser test bed and Boeing’s 10kW International Photonic Group (IPG) fiber laser. The Mk38 Mod 2 is already operational on many U.S. Navy vessels and the Tactical Laser System payload will be designed as a ‘drop in’ module to mount in parallel to the existing weapon, offering both directed energy and kinetic weapon effect defending ships from close-in attacks by rubber boats, speed boats or unmanned threats.

“The success of this testing exceeded all expectations and demonstrates that our Mk 38 TLS has the potential to deliver an important ship self defense capability,” said Mark Signorelli, vice president and general manager of Weapon Systems for BAE Systems. “The optics associated with control of the laser allow significantly greater capability in target identification, the ability to conduct precision tracking and engagement, and provide the option of non-lethal engagements, which are critical features to enhance ship defenses.”

The addition of the laser weapon module brings high-precision accuracy against surface and air targets such as small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. The system also provides the ability to deliver different levels of laser energy, depending on the target and mission objectives. While the recent test at Eglin took place on land, a previous evaluation of the system at sea also proved effective, according to Spencer Ackerman of Wired Danger Room. This test was carried out on a boat at Florida’s Choctawatchee Bay, simulating engagement of multiple small pirate fast boats attacking civilian or naval vessels in swarmed.

Boeing and BAE Systems have been working together for the past two years to develop this capability. In 2010, Boeing DES conducted two experiments in the field to demonstrate the system’s ability to track surface targets and maintain a laser aimpoint with high precision.

“this system is revolutionary because it combines kinetic and directed energy weapons capability,” said Rinn. he indicated the system was designed to offer an affordable solution for the Navy, seamlessly integrated into existing shipboard command interfaces.

The Mk38 Mod2 is a derivative of the Typhoon Mk 25 Weapon System developed by Rafael. Designed for the mission of ship self-protection, the system mounts the Bushmaster M242 gun and Toplite stabilized EO target acquisition system. The system is designed for use on vessels of 50 tons or greater displacement. The system’s non-penetrating deck design allows for a variety of potential applications throughout hull and superstructure locations to optimize overall operational effectiveness.

The Mk 38 Mod 2 main weapon is the M242 Bushmaster 25-mm Chain Gun, a proven NATO standard auto cannon with 2.5 km range and selectable rates of fire. The M242 Bushmaster 25-mm Chain Gun that fires all USN-approved 25-mm ammunition at up to 180 rounds per minute, with the Mk 38 Mod 2 providing 168 rounds on-mount. Photo: Rafael