As we’ve explored at the annual 2018 Directed Energy Summit and in a series of articles, the advantages of directed energy weapons are clear, driven by their inherent characteristics and the nature of the threat facing our deployed troops and allies. In the near-term, directed energy is critical to blunt cost-imposing strategies, even of unsophisticated enemies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) swarms. Longer term, these systems will be invaluable components of a layered missile defense in all warfighting domains.
Yet the development lifecycle isn’t only technical: For weapons systems development to be successful, training, doctrine, concept of operations, and sustainment must be addressed. The acquisition community and warfighter thus need answers to how, not if, directed energy weapons – including both high energy lasers (HEL) and high-power microwave (HPM) weapons – will be effectively used in combat operations.
The overarching need is to develop warfighter trust in the weapon system – trust that it will perform as the engineers said it would, trust that the weapon has a well thought out place on the battlefield, and trust that it can make their lives easier, not harder, when the mission is on the line. The process of building that trust needs to start now to avoid becoming the issue that slows directed energy from being fielded and embraced by the Department of Defense (DoD), the policy community, and Congress.