While defending checkpoints and disorienting potential threats during raids are major applications for these weapons, you can see how well suited they can be to protecting vulnerable maritime assets, too. At the very least, they can make it clear to nearby boaters and pilots that they shouldn’t come closer without having to communicate audibly, by radio, or by firing actual warning shots.
With suicide and unmanned vessel attacks being among the biggest potential threats to ships these days, laser dazzlers offer an essential layer of protection. Even lower-end drones, whether airborne or waterborne, could be repelled via dazzlers by blinding their electro-optical systems. The ability to pinpoint the laser’s aim is why they are mounted on a rifle stock that is also equipped with a scope.
The Navy has deployed these systems on many of its ships, including its aircraft carriers, but the service is already fielding a far more powerful, hard-mounted, laser dazzler that will have a much greater range and a better ability to blind more advanced electronic optics. Named ODIN, it’s already deployed on one of the Navy’s destroyers and will be on seven more in just three years.
Laser dazzlers are becoming increasingly common among other militaries around the world, as well. China, in particular, has embraced them to a high degree, and they have used them against U.S. assets in troubling ways.
When it comes to lasers on submarines, there was a recent report that U.S. submarines may receive a laser mast of some sort in the future. Although some conjecture was likely overblown as to what is feasible in terms of such a system’s capabilities, it would likely only be able to engage drones and small craft, if at all, and more likely it would be a dazzler system similar to ODIN.
Also seen in the picture of the Minnesota that the Navy posted is the submarine’s dual AN/BVS-1 photonics masts. Unlike traditional periscopes, these do not penetrate the main hull. Instead, they send their electro-optical and infrared video and imagery to the sub’s control room digitally. This allows the control room to be placed lower in the main hull on the Virginia class as the periscopes don’t have to reach it physically.
The system has high-power infrared and electro-optical cameras, a laser rangefinder, as well as a modular top unit that can be swapped out with electronic warfare, electronic surveillance, and communications payloads. The mast is coated in radar-absorbent material and is designed to avoid detection when extended.
So, the big takeaway here is if you are sailing near a U.S. Navy warship and suddenly get hit with a green beam of light, turn around. The next opportunity to pull away may come via a burst from a machinegun, or not at all.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com