Laser weapon adds sea-going craft to its list of conquests


May 12, 2014

The Lockheed Martin ADAM laser system burns through the hull of a military-grade boat

The Lockheed Martin ADAM laser system burns through the hull of a military-grade boat

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Lockheed Martin’s ADAM (Area Defense Anti-Munitions) High Energy Laser (HEL) system is part of a growing breed of high-energy weapons being developed for the armed forces of the near future. Having previously demonstrated its ability to track, target, and destroy rockets at high speed and at distances of up to 2 km (1.2 miles), the versatility of the ADAM system has been further established by taking aim at waterborne targets, successfully disabling a military-grade boat in a test on May 7 in the Pacific Ocean.

In this latest test, which was the first against a maritime target, the disabling of a military-grade boat by puncturing its multiple-layer rubber hull required a sustained laser burst for 30 seconds. It demonstrated the ability of the ADAM system to lock on to a single point of a weaving, bobbing target at a distance of approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) with super-accuracy for sustained periods of time. Not quite as spectacular as destroying a rocket in mid-flight, perhaps, but it does suggest that the ADAM system may also be used effectively against more robust larger craft more likely to be encountered in day-to-day military operations. And all without giving away the weapon’s position through either muzzle flash or the noise associated with more conventional weapons.

Along with its ability to stealthily target vessels and render them inoperative, the ADAM system does so without exploding projectiles or multiple rounds of bullets as used in conventional weapons systems, thereby hinting at its possible use in other fields, such as the non-lethal control of insurgent vessels or in sea border protection duties. And the prospect of a weapon that is a target-only, non-incendiary device can only bode well for the future uptake and more likely community acceptance of laser-based armament systems.

To achieve the high degrees of target-specific accuracy required, the ADAM system relies on its ability to direct an array of laser beams carried on multiple high-power optical fibers into one coherent beam. Much like a heliostat directs the concentrated energy of the sun from multiple focal points to create a beam far hotter than can be generated from single reflectors, Lockheed Martin HEL systems combine manifold laser outputs to form a super-powerful beam. This converged beam is then steered to its target using the company's proprietary laser beam control architecture and software.

Further work along these lines could soon result in the production of a range of low-cost, ultra high-accuracy, "unlimited" magazine weapons using more readily available software and electronics technologies that can be easily and inexpensively added as an adjunct to conventional weapons system.

“Our ADAM system tests have shown that high-energy lasers are ready to begin addressing critical defense needs,” said Tory Bruno, president of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

The video below documents the latest tests of the Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) system.

Source: Lockheed Martin

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf. All articles by Colin Jeffrey

"To achieve the high degrees of target-specific accuracy required, the ADAM system relies on its ability to direct an array of laser beams carried on multiple high-power optical fibers into one coherent beam." Yah, it's a death star but industrial trademarks don't allow for this particular nomenclature. I like how you can stealthily disable the boat without explosives or giving away your firing position. Once the boat is dead in the water, THEN you can feel free to give away your position (let's face it they probably know where you are anyway or else the enemy boat wouldn't be there) and start tossing HE rounds at it to make sure its crew also ends up dead in the water as well.


I'll bet people are a softer target.


Yeahh, you can take out a rubber boat with a properly positioned lawn dart. What happens to a laser with 3" of steel, especially if it is shiny?


Wow,, erm....exciting!

Now that the enemy has a bit of tan, bring out the new rail gun to show em how we really blow up rubber ducks.


The laser gun reminds me of one that was in the Disney movie Condorman. I read that it was an actual laser that was used (not powerful enough to do harm).


Excellent progress, Lockheed Martin. Why the last time a boat was set afire with a high-energy beam was 212 BC during the siege of Syracuse.

Did you ever notice ADAM's targets are always painted black?


I assume the laser will be able to track moving targets (in the video the boat is destroyed at a stand still). But part of the issue with the ocean is line of sight. A laser has a linear line of sight and in high swells it may be difficult to keep a target acquired, due to it dipping out of view.

I can see them having a higher intensity laser for water-based targets, that way the beam would not need to stay on the target as long. But this laser is effective vs aircraft etc.


CliffG makes an excellent point: This expensive approach will be of very limited military use, as it can be defeated with white paint or other reflective surfaces, smoke, clouds, etc. Unless the enemy is obliging and paints things black for ADAM's convenience. For example, a 30kW beam hitting a target with 95% reflectivity, would only deposit 1.5kW on it. This is negligible compared to the engine heat dissipation of just about anything relevant.


Underwhelming, especially if it cost more than $100!

Harold Abbott

Wow...great....uh...pathetic. 30 seconds to punch a tiny hole through rubber and make the boat deflate (not sink). Yeah, good luck with punching through metal.

Look, I can see the potential, but this is not a real product yet.


Mount Laser on surface ships & in submarine fwd sail area for 180 arc sweep alone to clear sea lanes of pirates. For all ship types IE amphibs, cruisers, DDGs, miscl types & cargo ships.

Stephen Russell

Great! Now all we have to do is rustle up some enemies! :-)

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