The US Navy is working towards developing submarines armed with lasers if a military research project is to be believed. While both China and Russia possess modern submarines, the US is spoiled for choice when it comes to fielding advanced subs to guard its maritime borders.
Currently, the nation’s submarine force consists of four operational classes, all of which are nuclear-powered. These include the Ohio-class, the Los Angeles-class, the Seawolf-class, and the Virginia-class submarines.
There are 14 Ohio-class SSBNs (Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear), which are nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines and serve as the sea-based leg of the US strategic triad. Four additional Ohio-class submarines are designated as SSGNs (Ship, Submersible, Guided Missile, Nuclear).
The SSGNs can carry out both strike and Special Forces insertion, providing a huge boost for the US Navy.
On the other hand, the Virginia, Seawolf, and Los Angeles classes of attack submarines can carry out missions that involve engaging and destroying enemy vessels, supporting on-shore operations and carrier groups, and carrying out surveillance.
While these modern submarines can carry out a whole lot of specialized tasks, the possibility of them being further equipped with laser weapons could be a scary prospect for other nation’s militaries.
According to the Navy’s research proposal, the US military is looking to secure technologies to operate Directed Energy Weapons Systems (DEWS).
“The Navy seeks technologies for transmitting high electrical power required for operating Directed Energy (DE) weapon systems from inboard the submarine to an outboard DE system, submersible platform, special operation, etc.,” read the research proposal.
Directed Energy Weapons Systems
Directed Energy Weapons or DEWS use highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves, and particle beams to damage targets.
The weapons will play a crucial factor in future contactless warfare and can be used to target enemy fighter jets, personnel, vehicles, missiles, and even optical devices.
The laser weapon will work on the basis of a connector that will allow the transmission of hundreds of kilowatts of electricity through a submarine’s hull.
According to the US defense magazine, National Interest, the US Navy submarines will become giant batteries that will supply huge amounts of energy to lasers, underwater platforms, or equipment used by special operations forces.
However, for that, there is a need for the US Navy to develop an electrical connector embedded in the submarine’s hull.
“Currently, the Navy needs to tow the generator to support a similar system,” according to the proposal.
Bryan Clark, a former Navy submarine officer, who is now serving as an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank, said,
“By ‘outboard,’ the proposal could mean a system attached externally to the submarine, but that is only connected to the inside of the submarine via external hull penetrators,
“These penetrators are electrical connectors that provide an electrical circuit between the inside and outside of the submarine, but that is built into the hull so cables do not need to pass through the hull. A laser could be mounted to the submarine outside the pressure hull,” he added.
Clark also spoke on length on the other possibilities of deploying lasers on the submarines, in a way they can be used effectively.
“Either the laser could be in a mast or it could be in the sail and the sub would have to surface at least partially,”
Regardless of the proposal, work is indeed underway by several countries to develop reliable Directed Energy Weapons (DEWS).
According to David Stoudt, a senior executive advisor and engineering fellow for directed energy at Booz Allen Hamilton, some weapons have already been developed.
“The directed energy community has already successfully fielded both High Power Microwave (HPM) and High Energy Laser (HEL) weapon systems,” said Stoudt.