Modernization of US Navy ships continues in order to counter the technology advances of peer and near-peer adversaries, including the Chinese and the Russians. The future naval battlefield will include lasers, hypersonic missiles, electromagnetic rail guns, and unmanned vehicles operating below, on and above the sea. Let’s take a look at some recent modernization efforts and what may be in the queue for Navy ships and submarines in the not-too-distant future.

First off, an Aegis destroyer recently received the first installation of a laser dazzler system to counter threat unmanned aerial vehicles.

The newest weapon in the Navy’s arsenal is a laser dazzler that can stymie enemy drones threatening surface ships. And now it’s installed aboard an active destroyer.

The system was installed aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Dewey in November, but not announced until this week, officials with Naval Sea Systems Command told Military.com.

Called Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy, or ODIN, the system is the technological successor of the Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, a 30-kilowatt laser installed on the amphibious transport dock Ponce in 2014. The ship conducted experiments in the Persian Gulf before the Ponce returned home for decommissioning in 2017; LaWS in its current form was never fielded.

This installation comes on the heels of the first deployment of a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) equipped with equipped with the new 100-mile Naval Strike Missile and the newly mission-capable MQ-8C Fire Scout drone. The Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter is an over-the-horizon surveillance and targeting platform.

Hypersonic weapons systems are in the Navy’s queue, too, as reported here:

The Navy intends to deploy its conventional prompt strike hypersonic weapon on Virginia-class attack submarines, after previous discussions of putting the weapon on the larger Ohio-class guided-missile submarine (SSGN), according to budget request documents.

In its Fiscal Year 2021 budget overview, the Navy outlines a research and development portfolio with 5 percent more funding than this current year – for a total of $21.5 billion – that is aimed at “providing innovative capabilities in shipbuilding (Columbia class), aviation (F-35), weapons (Maritime Strike Tomahawk), hypersonics (Conventional Prompt Strike), unmanned, family of lasers, digital warfare, applied [artificial intelligence], and [U.S. Marine Corps] expeditionary equipment. These technologies are crucial to maintaining DON’s competitive advantage.”

Last month, Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Rich Brown told reporters that he could envision the Zumwalt-class destroyer – with its larger size, power generation and missile launcher compared to the Arleigh Burke-class DDG – being a host for the conventional prompt strike weapon.

The Navy has not ruled out this possibility, but it appears that the Virginia subs with the Virginia Payload Module – which will be included in the Block V submarines being built today – will be the first to operate with the new hypersonic weapon.

Finally, there are a number of Navy research and development projects underway that could morph into deployable systems in the not-too-distant future, as report here:

Navy efforts to develop … more capable lasers include:

  • the Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort;
  • the Ruggedized High Energy Laser (RHEL); …
  • the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) Increment 1, also known as the high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance (HELIOS); and
  • the High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP).

The Navy has been developing [the electromagnetic railgun] EMRG for several years. It was originally conceived as a naval surface fire support (NSFS) weapon for supporting Marines and other friendly forces ashore.

As the Romans used to say, Si vis pacem, para bellum – if you want peace, prepare for war. That’s precisely what the US Dept of Defense is about, and that requires a constant technology refresh and modernization in order to defeat the improved capabilities of potential adversaries.

The end.

Stu Cvrk
Stu Cvrk served 30 years in the US Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. An oceanographer and systems analyst through education and experience, Stu is a graduate of the US Naval Academy where he received a classical liberal education which serves as the key foundation for his political commentary. He threads daily on Twitter on a wide range of political, military, foreign policy, government, economics, and world affairs topics.
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