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You’re hearing about Directed Energy weapons in the news; seeing what it will take to get them on the battlefield was a hot topic of discussion at this year’s 2018 Directed Energy Summit. Here’s a look at five key themes that emerged.
1. Directed Energy is not “one size fits all.”
When we think Directed Energy, we think lasers, but it also encompasses high-power microwaves—a group of technologies that can be tailored for use across the nation’s warfighting domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. Since the strategies, war-fighting tactics, techniques, procedures, and logistical requirements for each of these domains are distinct, each will require a different application of these technologies.
The good news: There’s room for innovation. The challenge: There’s wide variation in how these systems will be rolled out across the service branches. We need to understand the needs of the warfighter and the many mission scenarios these technologies will support.
Responding to our nation’s adversaries and competitors, the U.S. National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy underscore the importance of technological advantage and superiority. Directed Energy weapons are an integral part of the equation.
And support for Directed Energy has been growing, shown by actions such as Congress’ approval for rapid acquisition authority for Directed Energy weapons; the appointment of a Pentagon senior official tasked with accelerating the transition of Directed Energy weapon systems into the field; and increased budget for prototyping a number of Directed Energy weapons.
As with any weapon system, success requires more than hardware. To keep pace with technological development, operational considerations should be addressed now, such as: test simulation, training approaches and infrastructure, concepts of operation, and tactical decision aids that help the warfighter make critical choices in combat.
Giving thought to these areas now will ensure fielding is ready on the same timeline as systems, and build warfighters’ trust in the weapons’ combat capabilities.
Leaders in Congress and the Department of Defense track numerous topics beyond armed services work and emerging technologies, including intelligence, foreign affairs, and related topics that influence decision making.
Education and awareness building—on the part of government, industry and academia—is critical to understanding the full picture of Directed Energy, from technology advances to what our adversaries are doing. This ultimately supports decision-makers’ abilities to advocate on behalf of the warfighter and the nation.
Until recently, from a warfighter perspective, Directed Energy has been more of a technology push than a pull. Recent technology advancements and successful field demonstrations are starting to change that perspective. Increased education to the warfighter about what these systems can offer in conjunction with kinetic weapons, plus continued availability of prototypes to test, will be critical to advancing the adoption of Directed Energy weapons.
Non-lethal applications for Directed Energy, such as active denial, and high-power microwave vehicle and vessel stopping, and sensor capabilities give the warfighter valuable options, support the National Defense Strategy and complement traditional weapon systems. Non-escalatory warfare options such as these are increasingly needed as urban and non-traditional battlefield scenarios increase. In some cases where kinetic weapons are not viable, non-lethal Directed Energy weapons could be the only alternative.