Why do ships shoot down cheap drones with multi-million dollar missiles
ODIN laser system on board the destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG-106), photo — USN, MC Elisha Smith

Although the US Navy has no difficulty in destroying Houthi attack drones and missiles, the Ministry of Defense in the country is concerned about the fact that the US military uses interceptors costing millions of dollars to hit relatively cheap targets (for example, the price of the SM-2 missile for 2022 fluctuated in the range of 2.1 million dollars, SM-3 Block IB – 11.83 million dollars), while the price of the same drones can range from several tens of thousands of dollars.

And now experts are wondering why there is no data on the use of the latest laser weapons in the officials’ reports on the shooting down of enemy targets, which should solve the problem when incomparably expensive missiles are used to shoot down cheap targets.

The answer to that question can be found in a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, as reported in Defense OneIn particular, they mention the following — today the US Navy is in the process of deploying eight ODIN (Optical Dazzler Interdictor Navy) laser systems on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at once.

Why do ships shoot down cheap drones with multi-million dollar missiles
ODIN laser system, photo – US Navy

Also – two years ago, the current USS Preble (DDG-88) (Arleigh Burke-class) received a HELIOS laser, which can have a power of 60 to 150 kW and also a built-in blinder and surveillance system. After all, today, the US military is working on other lasers within the framework of the HELCAP (High Energy Laser Counter) and LLD (Layered Laser Defense) programs.

The answer to the question, of why the US Navy does not actively use this weapon to shoot down cheap drones has two explanations. First, the United States recognizes the presence of technical problems with the scaling of such weapons. And that “at today’s power levels, it takes a few seconds of tracking to do enough damage [to a drone] to bring it down.” And that the Navy, together with the Ministry of Defense, are already working to resolve restrictions on the use of such weapons.

The second explanation is rather paradoxical, although not really surprising. It is a banal bureaucratic obstacle, when the Navy cannot scale the purchase of ship lasers, because it has never purchased them in significant quantities before and therefore cannot determine the cost of purchases.

At the same time, with regard to estimates and how much laser weapons can cost, the following numbers are given – a 60 kW system with “relatively mature beam control and integration of combat systems” will cost about 100 million dollars under the condition of moderate production rates. For lasers with a power of 250 kW, the price doubles to $200 million for one system.

Therefore, the conclusion here is that, indeed, in the short term, the United States will have to spend much more money, but this will ultimately help them save significantly on missiles in the long term.