Several shipborne laser combat systems are being developed, which the US Navy plans to use to destroy light surface ships, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, and light aircraft. It is assumed that laser weapons will become a cheaper alternative to traditional artillery and missile ship systems due to the lower cost.
Recently, researchers from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) took an idea to use drones to test and evaluate ships’ new laser weapons a step further by successfully launching and landing one from a moving ship.
During the tests, researchers made a quadcopter take off, hover, and fly alongside the ship’s side from a few miles off the Port Hueneme coast. It then landed from a stationary and moving ship. The software is specially designed so Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (UAV) correctly maneuver and operate independently from ships and other moving platforms that heave and roll amid high winds and tight spaces, so a pilot is not needed.
The unmanned vehicle, created for testing laser weapons, was developed by the San Diego, Calif.-based Planck Aerosystems. The 55-pound (25 kg) quadcopter measured about 50 inches from mid-propeller to mid-propeller was larger and heavier than the drones they previously tested. It is fitted with an ID tag, navigation system, and a payload the same as what will eventually be used in the test with USS Portland on the nearby Point Mugu Sea Test Range in upcoming months.
The drone rose straight up from the ship through several tests, then flew in a straight line over the water to hover about 75 meters off the port side. In the first test, the ship was stationary, and the UAV hovered over the water for several minutes before smoothly returning to the same spot. In the next tests, the drone performed those maneuvers while the ship was moving at first 5 and then 10 knots, and the UAV flew steadily forward in a straight line while keeping pace with the ship. It hovered over a target that resembled three QR codes laid on the ship’s floor when it returned to the ship.
“It kept a very nice pace, and it did a really good job staying above the landing tag (QR codes),” said Ian Wilson, cybersecurity researcher. “We had a gust of wind right before (one of the) landings, but we were able to stabilize and land, which is the hardest part.”
At the time of testing, the quadrocopter was equipped with a mass-dimensional model of the system for evaluating the parameters of laser weapons. A completely digital system will be used to assess the combat laser’s various parameters, including targeting accuracy and power.
Despite windy conditions, the drone stayed steady, and Jaeger did not have to take control. Next, the team plans to develop a test plan objectives for an actual test with Portland on the Point Mugu test range.