The Office of Naval Research has made a significant step in laser-based military defense this week.

The Navy announced that it tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) from a surface ship, which disabled a small target ship close by. The Navy tested the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD) with a partner private contractor, Northrop Grumman. The laser validated the potential for advanced self-defense for surface ships and personnel by keeping small boat threats at a safe distance.

The success of this high-energy laser test is a credit to the collaboration, cooperation and teaming of naval labs at Dahlgren, China Lake, Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, Calif., Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin Carr said in a statement. ONR coordinated each of their unique capabilities into one cohesive effort. 

In just under three years, the Maritime Laser Demonstrator has gone from a concept to real world demonstrations. The test marks the first time a high energy laser has been used to strike a target at range in a maritime environment.  Furthermore, it was the first time the laser was integrated with a ship's radar and navigation system, and an electric laser weapon fired from a moving platform at sea in a humid environment.

We are learning a ton from this program-how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons. All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome, said Peter Morrison, program officer for the Office of Naval Research's MLD department.

The laser could be used as an add-on to traditional weapon systems Carr says.

Scientifically, it's the marriage of directed energy and kinetic energy weapon systems. This marriage opens up a new level of deterrence into scalable options for the commander... This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships. There is still much work to do to make sure it's done safely and efficiently, he said.

The test was near San Nicholas Island off the coast of California. The Navy mounted the laser on the deck of its self-defense test ship, former USS Paul Foster.