US Defense pushing for megawatt class lasers

The subcommittee on Emerging Threats and capabilities met Dr. Michael Griffin undersecretary of defense for Research and Engineering on accelerating new technologies to meet emerging threats. Rapid technological advancements have the potential to change the very character of war.

Michael Griffin said

“We need to have 100-kilowatt-class weapons on Army theater vehicles. We need to have 300-kilowatt-class weapons on Air Force tankers,” Griffin said. “We need to have megawatt-class directed energy weapons in space for space defense. These are things we can do over the next decade if we can maintain our focus.”

Scientists he’s been talking with have told him that level of laser power is five to six years away and a “megawatt laser” is within a decade with persistent investment.

The US military is boosting combat laser funding to a billion dollars or more.

The US has funded several combat laser deployments over the next three years.

Lockheed Martin is being awarded a $150 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for Surface Navy Laser Weapon System Increment 1, High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with a surveillance system. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $943 million.

The combat lasers will be 150-kilowatts and could get upgraded to 300 kilowatts for more range and power.

1. Up to three 60 kilowatt combat lasers. Project 3402 in the Navy budget, is known as the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System. SNLWS is an “advanced prototype laser weapon” in the 60-kilowatt-or-higher class. The Navy recently announced this laser would be installed on the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, but the budget provides funding to outfit not just one but three destroyers.

The laser can “dazzle and destroy” drones as well as “fast inshore attack craft” (FIAC). The 2019 budget allocates $190 million for the SNLWS. The Navy anticipates the first destroyers outfitted with the laser weapon in late of 2020.

2. ODIN, or Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (which formerly carried the bland-sounding moniker Low Power Module). ODIN is a laser designed to blind and disrupt “Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) and other platforms that will address urgent operational needs of the Fleet.” That wording implies drones are currently being used to watch U.S. ships at sea.

Two ODIN units have apparently already been funded, and the 2019 budget provides for three more (installation costs will be covered in the 2020 budget). Each ODIN unit consists of a “Beam Director (Telescope, Optics, Fast Steering Mirrors); Lower Power Lasers (2); Sensors (Coarse Track, Fine Track, ISR Imaging); Computer Rack, Network Switches; and an Operator Laptop.” The U.S. Navy is spending $44 million in 2019 on the ODIN.

3. Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation. It’s a much larger 150-kilowatt laser to be mounted on a San Antonio-class ship in 2019. Finally, the Navy mentions the Ruggedized High Energy Laser, or RHEL, a 150-kilowatt laser that will apparently employ “different laser architectures” that will handle more powerful laser beams eventually.

Updated High technology testing facilities

Michael Griffin is pushing for improved test facilities for faster development of US weapons.

Artificial Intelligence for defense

He was also committed to the development of a joint AI center meaning across the services and really there will be elements of it across government and I think the D.O.D. will take the lead.

There are 592 projects across the Defense Department that have AI as part of their development.

Self-driving vehicles

The Army recently announced the 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne Division will have a robotic combat vehicle called the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport in the ranks this year for testing, which will develop the likely full-fielding gear mule-type robot. Simple tasks, such as delivering food, mail, water and fuel, could be automated sooner than some think.

Griffin believes it will simpler and faster to have self-driving army vehicles than self-driving cars on regular roads.