It is a big step towards operational laser weapons. For the first time in its history, the Bundeswehr successfully used a laser weapon from a German warship in August 2022. As part of tests, the frigate “SACHSEN” successfully fought drones at sea on 30.08.2022 in front of the military training area in Putlos. Responsible for the development of the laser weapon demonstrator is the Arbeitsgemeinschaft (ARGE) Hochenergielaser Marinedemonstrator, consisting of MBDA Deutschland GmbH and Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH.

A future high-energy laser (HEL) weapon system for the navy is particularly suitable for defending against drones, drone swarms or attacking speedboats at close and close range. However, it can also be equipped more efficiently and used to destroy guided missiles or mortar shells.

Already in November 2021, the joint integration and test phase of the naval demonstrator started, which the integration team of the ARGE concluded with a successful Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) at the test site in Unterlüß. This was followed by the integration of the demonstrator on the frigate “SACHSEN” in Kiel. In July 2022, the first test campaign took place in Eckernförde Bay in front of the base of the Wehrtechnische Dienststelle 71 (WTD 71) in Surendorf. As part of the tests, the performance of the various sensors, including the electro-optical (EO) sensors of the ARGE and the radar, was verified. In addition, the interaction of all components and processes of the entire chain of action from target acquisition to combat was tested. The testing included a large number of realistic control scenarios. The test planning and the provision of various target types on land, at sea or from the air were carried out and organised by the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw). The test management was carried out by WTD 71.

Daniel Gruber, Project Manager Marine Demonstrator at MBDA Germany and Dr. Markus Jung, Head of Development Radiation Weapons at Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH, are accompanying the test campaigns with the frigate. With a view to the past integration and test phase, they draw a positive conclusion. Thus, the historic live shot from a combat ship of the Navy was a special moment for all involved. The team was able to demonstrate the full performance of the demonstrator. “The good cooperation between the two consortium partners contributed significantly to the fact that we were able to integrate a fully functional and powerful demonstrator on the frigate,” says Gruber. “The close cooperation with the on-board command of the frigate SACHSEN enabled us to exchange ideas directly with the future user. Many of the Navy’s suggestions have already been incorporated directly or will be implemented in a later development.”

Dr. Thomas Baumgärtel, Project Manager Marine Demonstrator at Rheinmetall Waffe und Munition GmbH, is also satisfied: “The main components of the demonstrator represent absolute high technology. Although this is based on years of research within the participating houses, many system components of the demonstrator were developed specifically for the project and have been combined in this form for the first time. Also in view of the extremely short integration phase for such a complex system, we are extremely proud of the results so far and the successful course of testing. The impressive proof of the suitability of HEL effectors for the short-range and close-range protection of naval units is the merit of the joint efforts of all project participants on the part of industry, departments of the public contracting authority and, of course, the soldiers of the frigate SACHSEN.”

Both Doris Laarmann, Head of Laser Activities at MBDA Germany, and Alexander Graf, Head of Program Management Radiation Weapons at Rheinmetall Waffe und Munition GmbH, emphasized that the current testing creates fundamental prerequisites for the introduction of new laser weapon systems and capabilities into the Bundeswehr. These capabilities are not only relevant for the Navy. The industry is preparing laser systems that contribute to the protection of soldiers in various applications.

Testing of the high-energy laser weapon will continue until mid-2023. In the following test campaigns, the demonstrator will be challenged in further scenarios. Last but not least, the need for further action on the way to a fully functional, operational laser weapon is to be derived.

The distribution of the work shares in the ARGE at the effector is carried out approximately equally. MBDA Germany is responsible for target acquisition and tracking, the control console and connection of the laser weapon demonstrator to the command and control system. Rheinmetall is responsible for the straightening system, the beam guidance and the demonstrator container as well as the mechanical and electrical integration of the demonstrator on the deck of the frigate SACHSEN and ultimately also the high-energy laser source including its peripherals.