Will The DOD Be Able To Deploy Laser Weapons, Or Will It Lose To China?
A study released on Tuesday by the Center for a New American Security says that if the Pentagon doesn’t start taking accountability seriously, its groundbreaking laser weapons might never see the light of day.
The experimental laser gun fired by the Navy’s U.S.S. Ponce last year awed observers, but like other laser programs, it might fall through the cracks and result in billions of waste.
China and Russia are busy closing the innovation gap and are already at the forefront of developing high-power microwave weapons systems and high-energy lasers.
Bill Gertz noted in The Washington Times in 2011 that China considers high-power microwaves to be part of its “assassin’s mace” arsenal, which takes its name from the objective of the program: to defeat the U.S. military despite technological inferiority.
Jason D. Ellis, the study’s author, notes that by the year 2022, China stands to surpass the United States in the amount of total funds dedicated to research and development.
Although energy weapons have the potential to change the nature of warfare, the report says the Department of Defense isn’t serious enough about their development.
The DOD has a history of sinking billions into failed programs in the laser weapon space, most notably the airborne or space-based lasers that were not fit to be deployed operationally. Overconfidence led the Air Force Scientific Advisory to make bold proclamations that DE weapons would be widely present on airborne platforms– two decades ago .
A recent investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that over the last decade, the Pentagon has wasted $10 billion dollars of taxpayer money on missile defense programs. One of the programs, the Airborne Laser, cost $5.3 billion dollars alone and failed spectacularly because of its inability to fire lasers over the necessary distance. It was finally shuttered in 2012, after researchers realized that the laser fuel not only proved to be a danger to the crew, but that the weapon needed to be 20-30 times more powerful.
“I don’t know anybody at the Department of Defense … who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed,” Robert M. Gates, then-secretary of defense, said in May 2009.
But Ellis thinks that laser weapons are ready for integration in the next 10 years, in order to “help defend ships and bases from some forms of attack; enhance the performance of existing combat identification, self-protection and other systems; and provide novel counterelectronic attack options.”
Readiness requires more investment. DOD spending on laser weapons in fiscal year 2014 hit $405.3 million dollars, which is 36 percent less than in 2007, leading to a recommendation that DOD double spending for high-energy laser weapons and increase spending by 5-10 times for high-power microwave weapons. For fiscal year 2015, the DOD requested $500 million dollars in funds. For Ellis, the department should bump that amount up by $2 billion to counter the very real threats looming from China and Russia.
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