The US Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded two contracts to Boeing and Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems to design a free-electron laser (FEL) ship self-defence weapon system.

Each company has received $6.9m to start Phase 1A preliminary design operations for a 100 kW-class FEL and to follow-on with megawatt-class FEL weapon system.

These 12-month twin studies effectively touch ONR’s innovative navy prototype (INP) guideline for scalable FEL weapon capacity and undergo a multistage programme of design, development, manufacture, integration and test.

The US Navy is confident that present technological barriers to feasible and deployable high power laser weapons can be overcome and will invest more $160m in an INP programme beginning in 2010.