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Lawmakers Back Military’s Laser Weapon Programs

by Brendan McGarry on May 22, 2013

LaWS

Congressional Republicans say they support the U.S. military’s laser weapons and directed-energy programs designed to protect troops by zapping apart potential threats, from incoming rockets to drones flying overhead.

A panel of the House Armed Services Committee singled out the Army’s Solid State Laser Testbed and the Navy’s Laser Weapon System as “items of special interest” in its draft of the 2014 defense authorization bill, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

“The committee stresses the importance of directed energy research and encourages the Army’s continuation of those efforts,” according to language approved May 22 by the Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

The panel similarly backed the Navy program, including the service’s plans to deploy the Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce early next year for further testing.

It will be the first such deployment of the system after completing test shots last summer aboard the destroyer USS Dewey. The solid-state, infrared beam burned up dummy drones in evaluations in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

The legislation would require the secretaries of the Army and Navy to brief lawmakers on the demonstration programs and provide more information about the potential challenges of adopting the technology for wider use within the services, given its high-energy requirements.

Separately, the bill would also give lawmakers greater oversight of military intelligence operations. It calls for withholding half of the funding for the Pentagon’s new Defense Clandestine Service, or DSC, until Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel certifies that the unit, part of the Defense Intelligence Agency, will fulfill requirements “otherwise unmet.”

“The Defense Intelligence Agency has made good progress in developing and explaining the rationale behind the DCS,” Thornberry said during a brief hearing. “But as a new organization, it should have greater scrutiny and if military resources are being used, we want to make sure that the defense intelligence priorities are being met, especially in this very tight budget.”

The Pentagon next year plans to spend a total of $606 billion. That figure includes a base budget of $526.6 billion and $79.4 billion for the war in Afghanistan, according to figures the department disclosed on May 20. It doesn’t include the next round of automatic federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, which may total as much as $51 billion.

The full committee on June 5 is expected to vote on the bill, H.R.1960.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Klem May 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

So, this is good news for the rail gun, too?

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cranets May 29, 2013 at 8:05 pm

laser light weapon will be the future as star wars predicted.

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SFP May 23, 2013 at 2:32 am

this is good news for the rail gun, too?

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johnvarry May 23, 2013 at 3:00 am

The railguun will replace the bow turret gun which IIR4C is about a 5" gun. This will be more likely to replace the CIWS

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Oudin May 23, 2013 at 4:48 am
Oudin May 23, 2013 at 4:49 am
d. kellogg May 23, 2013 at 7:34 am

Being a line-of-sight, "straight-shootin' " weapon, yes the laser would be more suited to CIWS, anti air, and depending on power and range, even longer range anti-missile work.
But unless the target is line-of-sight, a laser isn't the most ideal surface-to-surface weapon, even if we all have seen "cool" lab expirements of lasers rapidly eviscerating metal plates.
For over-the-horizon / beyond-line-of-sight work, we'll still want some kind of projectile launcher: much like guns and missiles today compliment each other, I believe a mix of railguns with guided projectiles, and various long range hyper-velocity missiles, will become the preferred norm.

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ohwilleke May 23, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Congress loves this program, rightly, because it is extremely cheap.

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Stan May 28, 2013 at 3:46 pm

What the navy needs are large lasers able to shoot at ballistic missiles from hundreds of miles away perhaps on specialized ships escorting aircraft carriers. I don't know what these directed energy peashooters can do that an autocannon or a machine gun can't better. Perhaps cheaper after an upfront investment but better?

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Rhette Michaels July 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I can see lasers going into everything. Soon, we'll have lasers on hummingbird sized drones so our men never have to enter the field of combat!

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Shaun Lodge October 31, 2013 at 7:40 am

Whilst laser weapons appear to be a welcome emerging addition to a country's arsenal, there must be more research carried out to reduce their weight and bulk to enable them also to be fitted to fighter aircraft and armoured vehicles.

Lasers are dangerous to the operator who requires eye protection for specific wavelengths for direct exposure or reflected laser from mirror like surfaces. Little is written about what other radiation is given off by laser weapons and whether protective clothing must be worn. I would think that a body garment with a thermal barrier would be a minimum requirement.

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