Lawmakers and Defense Department leaders are showing increased interest in directed energy technology as the U.S. military gears up for great power competition with China and Russia.
High-energy lasers were big "winners" in the 2018 omnibus spending bill that Congress passed in March, according to defense industry analyst Jim McAleese of McAleese & Associates.
These weapons benefited from an "explosive spike" in Pentagon research, development, test and evaluation funding, which increased 23 percent relative to 2017 levels to $91 billion, he said in an email.
McAleese said those funds include: $35 million for a high-energy laser technology maturation initiative for the Army; $152 million for innovative naval prototypes including a solid-state laser and high-energy lasers; $246 million for Air Force directed energy technology including $43 million for high-energy laser research and $70 million for prototyping; and $36 million for a Defense Department-wide laser demonstrator.
"Robust federal investments in directed energy is absolutely critical to our national security," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said at a recent directed energy summit. "No one can sit in classified briefings as I have and learn what our adversaries are doing right now and not feel a keen sense of urgency to invest more into these technologies," added Ryan, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
These types of weapons have the potential to address a wide range of threats including defense against enemy missiles, rockets, artillery, mortars, drones and fast boats. They have unique characteristics such as speed of light engagement and a virtually unlimited magazine, he noted.
"I like what the budget looks like this year and into fiscal year '19--almost $ 1 billion to move us from low to high gear in what we need to achieve and accomplish in this area," he said.