The German Navy has successfully completed the testing of a 20kW laser weapon demonstrator (LWD) onboard the German frigate Sachsen under realistic sea conditions.
The sea trials were organized by the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology, and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) and carried out by the High-Energy Laser Naval Demonstrator Working Group (ARGE) consisting of MBDA Deutschland GmbH and Rheinmetall.
The LWD is a high-energy laser naval demonstrator that can deliver precise and scalable effects against various threats at sea. The LWD demonstrates the advantages of laser weapons, such as low cost per shot, unlimited magazine depth, speed-of-light engagement, and reduced collateral damage.
The modular laser weapon system was installed on the 5,800-tonne (6,393-ton) Sachsen in June 2022. The initial testing took place in July to verify the capabilities of various sensors, including the electro-optical sensor suite from the ARGE and the radar. The first live engagements from Sachsen took place on 30 August, successfully engaging drones at short and very short ranges in the Baltic Sea.
During the trials, comprising six campaigns lasting nearly a year, the LWD demonstrated its combat effectiveness in increasingly complex scenarios, under realistic operating conditions, and against different target types.
The system performed well in all aspects – from detection and tracking (including highly agile targets), the interplay of sensors, command, and weapon engagement systems, and effectors; possible rules of engagement; and, of course, the successful engagement of targets with a high-energy laser beam.
The LWD has performed more than a hundred test firings onboard the Sachsen and proved that a laser can successfully engage targets in a maritime environment. At the end of the trials, the LWD’s capabilities were successfully demonstrated at two VIP days in front of high-ranking representatives of the BAAINBw, the German Navy and Army, as well as the Bundeswehr Office for Defence Planning (PlgABw), which among other things shooting down a drone.
The demonstrator is currently undergoing a detailed examination. The test results and subsequent analysis will be used for minimizing risks in a possible next phase, i.e., the development of an operational laser weapon system.
According to Rheinmetall, the operational laser weapon system lends itself particularly to countering the threat from drones, drone swarms, speedboats, and possibly missiles at close to very close range. In the future, moreover, it could undergo a performance upgrade for destroying supersonic missiles, rockets, as well as mortar and artillery rounds.