US-China Laser Tag at Sea

(DDG 62)

We are entering a new era of naval warfare, as the US and China are deploying laser systems onboard ships at sea. Past naval eras have included:

  • Galleons (“Ramming speed!”)
  • Sailing ships (Horatio Hornblower and the British Navy)
  • Steam-driven ships (the Monitor and the Merrimac)
  • Battleships (Jutland)
  • Aircraft carriers (Midway)
  • Ships with long-range cruise missiles (Tomahawks hitting Baghdad)
  • And now the era of directed energy weapons (lasers, microwaves, and particle beams)

Laser weapons use amplified beams of light to attack targets. High-power microwave weapons distribute concentrated electromagnetic waves of high power (sometimes over broad areas). A neutral particle beam weapon would fire atomic particles at near-light speeds towards enemy targets. The effects on humans and equipment vary depending largely on the energy output of the given weapon.

There will be an increasing number of incidents like this one as our adversaries test and evaluate the effects of DEWs on human beings (which is what I believe this incident was about).

Microwave strikes may have caused the symptoms and ailments that hit more than two dozen U.S. diplomats and their family members in Cuba and China in late 2016, experts say.

A medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats made no mention of the microwaves in a report submitted in March. However, Douglas Smith, the lead author of the report and the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair, said Sunday microwaves were considered the culprit for the brain injuries.

Recently, a US Navy Aegis destroyer received the first installation of a non-lethal laser dazzler system to counter threat unmanned aerial vehicles.

The newest weapon in the Navy’s arsenal is a laser dazzler that can stymie enemy drones threatening surface ships. And now it’s installed aboard an active destroyer.

The system was installed aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Dewey in November, but not announced until this week, officials with Naval Sea Systems Command told

Called Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy, or ODIN, the system is the technological successor of the Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, a 30-kilowatt laser installed on the amphibious transport dock Ponce in 2014. The ship conducted experiments in the Persian Gulf before the Ponce returned home for decommissioning in 2017; LaWS in its current form was never fielded.


The first installation of the Navy’s 60-kW high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance (HELIOS) is scheduled for at-sea testing in 2021 on a Littoral Combat Ship, with plans in the works for a 150-kW laser system intended for amphibious ship self-defense.

The Chinese are also deploying laser systems onboard their Luyang-III guided-missile destroyers, and they’re using them at sea in confrontations with US Navy ships. One such incident was formally protested by the US government last week, as reported here:

The U.S. government has issued a formal protest to China over a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy destroyer shining a military-grade laser at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft operating in the Philippine Sea last month.

[A] Chinese Type 052D or Luyang III-class destroyer, the Hohhot, lased a P-8 on Feb. 17 during operations over international waters and airspace about 380 miles west of Guam. The aircraft that was targeted is part of Patrol Squadron (VP) 45, based in Jacksonville, Fla., and currently forward-deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.

“The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A. Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems,” reads a statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet on the incident, which PACFLT called “unsafe and unprofessional.”

After the official protest, the Navy also issued a warning to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) via its official Instagram account: “You don’t want to play laser tag with us.”


Rest assured, there will be more of these incidents at sea as the US continues freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in international waters around China’s periphery. It’s the dawn of a new age in naval warfare.

The end.


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