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A machine gun is a powerful weapon, particularly on board a Navy ship. But it suffers from what some would consider a design flaw: It’s not a laser cannon. Until now.
It’s the next move in the Navy’s dicey long-term mission to protect surface ships with death rays: Two defense giants, Boeing and BAE Systems, have teamed up to combine a solid-state laser weapon with BAE’s Mk-38 25-mm machine gun. On Monday, they announced they’re developing a demonstration model together for shipboard defense, which a Boeing vice president called a revolutionary one-two punch against enemy ships or small drones.
The next model Mk-38 will have a twin capability: It can keep firing off 180 rounds per minute with an effective range of 2000 yards. Or it can fire off “different levels of laser energy,” according to BAE spokeswoman Stephanie Bissell Serkhoshian. And the two can be combined, as the laser can identify and lock on a target for the machine gun to fill with lead.
Boeing Directed Energy Systems and BAE Systems have completed a teaming agreement to develop the Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System, which couples a solid-state high energy laser weapon module with the operational Mk 38 Machine Gun System. The addition of the laser weapon module brings high precision accuracy against surface targets and air targets, such as small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. The system also provides the ability to deliver different levels of laser energy, depending on the target and mission objectives. The two companies have signed a teaming agreement to formally pursue this capability. The U.S. Navy awarded both companies an initial contract to build a demonstrator unit in March 2011. Boeing is a subcontractor to BAE Systems under this contract. "Boeing is committed to developing this directed energy system that will significantly enhance ship defense," said Michael Rinn, vice president of Boeing Directed Energy Systems. "Combining BAE’s engineering expertise with the proven directed energy proficiency of Boeing’s Directed Energy Systems division creates a team uniquely qualified to integrate directed-energy technology into the Navy’s shipboard armaments." Boeing, BAE Systems and the U.S. Navy recently conducted a successful test of the system at Eglin Air Force Base, near Fort Walton Beach in Florida. During testing, a 10 kilowatt laser system representative of the proposed Mk 38 TLS fired against air targets and surface maritime targets. The results demonstrated its ability to identify and classify hostile targets and deliver precision effects at significant ranges.