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Boeing wins $30 million Navy-laser contract

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Boeing Co.’s Directed Energy Systems division in Albuquerque is leading a U.S. Navy effort to build a beam control system that can provide pinpoint accuracy for laser weapons on warships.

The company’s Defense, Space and Security unit, headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., won a $29.5 million contract with the Office of Naval Research to build a precision beam control system for ship-mounted solid-state lasers – building on truck-mounted laser systems developed for the Army.

For naval systems, the laser must be able to withstand harsh conditions at sea, said David DeYoung, director of Boeing’s Directed Energy Systems in Albuquerque, where all of the company’s directed-energy operations are centered.

“We’ll add new pieces to the system for operating in a naval environment, where there’s potential for sea spray and difficult atmospheric conditions” DeYoung said.

“Accuracy and functionality depend on how fine you can get the aim point and hold the beam,” said Boeing spokeswoman Queena Jones.

Boeing won’t build the lasers, just the beam control.

Apart from the new Navy contract, Boeing’s Albuquerque division also is developing a low-power laser system for use by military personnel on the ground – what the company calls a “laser weapons system in a suitcase.”

“It’s portable for individuals,” Jones said. “It can be used for things like disabling cameras on a drone.”

All of Boeing’s laser-related work is based in New Mexico, where the company has concentrated its expertise in developing electro-optical systems and other directed-energy technology, such as high-powered microwaves. That’s largely the result of Boeing’s work with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Boeing was the prime contractor of the now-defunct Airborne Laser Program – a nearly two-decade, $5 billion effort by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency to mount a high-powered laser on a Boeing 747 to destroy ballistic missiles as they take off. Much of that work was based at AFRL. After it ended in 2011, Boeing’s Albuquerque division continued to lead the company’s directed-energy operations.

In fact, Boeing recently established a new center of excellence in Albuquerque, dubbed the Electro-Optical/Infrared and Laser Detection and Ranging Capability Center. It collaborates with all divisions throughout Boeing on projects related to optical and infrared sensing and imaging, said Mario Alleva, an imbedded systems engineering manager and center co-leader.

The center is now building the electro-optical cameras and processing systems for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, which is developing a capsule for NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

“The systems we develop will help with all the docking and navigation of the vehicle,” Alleva said.

As of December 2013, the company employed 320 people in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. Its Directed Energy Systems division is housed at a facility in The 25 Way industrial and commercial park in Albuquerque.

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