Report to Congress on Defense Department Directed Energy Weapons

The following is the Sept. 13, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Department of Defense Directed Energy Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report Directed energy (DE) weapons use concentrated electromagnetic energy, rather than kinetic energy, to combat enemy forces. Although the United States has been researching directed energy since the 1960s, some experts […]

The following is the Sept. 13, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Department of Defense Directed Energy Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Directed energy (DE) weapons use concentrated electromagnetic energy, rather than kinetic energy, to combat enemy forces. Although the United States has been researching directed energy since the 1960s, some experts have observed that the Department of Defense (DOD) has invested billions of dollars in DE programs that failed to reach maturity and were ultimately cancelled. In recent years, however, DOD has made progress on DE weapons development, deploying the first operational U.S. DE weapon in 2014 aboard the USS Ponce. Since then, DE weapons development has continued, with DOD issuing a Directed Energy Roadmap to coordinate the department’s efforts. DOD has also introduced a High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative, which seeks to strengthen the defense industrial base for DE weapons and improve laser beam quality and efficiency.

This report provides background information and issues for Congress on DE weapons, including high-energy lasers (HELs) and high-powered microwave (HPM) weapons, and outlines selected unclassified DOD, Air Force, Army, and Navy DE programs. If successfully fielded, HELs could be used by ground forces in a range of missions, including short-range air defense (SHORAD); counter-unmanned aircraft systems (C-UAS); and counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) missions. HPM weapons could provide a nonkinetic means of disabling adversary electronics and communications systems. Compared with traditional munitions, DE weapons could offer lower logistical requirements, lower costs per shot, and—assuming access to a sufficient power supply—deeper magazines. These weapons could, however, face a number of limitations not faced by their kinetic counterparts. For example, atmospheric conditions (e.g., rain, fog, obscurants) could potentially limit the range and beam quality of DE weapons, in turn reducing their effectiveness.

As DOD continues to invest in DE weapons, Congress may consider the weapons’ technological maturity, lifecycle cost, characteristics, mission utility, industrial base, intelligence requirements, and oversight structure. Congress may also consider the implications of DE weapons for future arms control agreements.

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Report on Navy Laser, Railgun and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile

The following is the April 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report This report provides background information and issues for Congress on three potential new ship-based self-defense weapons for the Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched […]

The following is the April 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

This report provides background information and issues for Congress on three potential new ship-based self-defense weapons for the Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP), also known as the hypervelocity projectile (HVP).

The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requested research and development funding for continued work on SSLs, but proposed suspending further work on the EMRG and GLGP programs and requested no research and development funding for them.

The Navy installed its first prototype SSL capable of countering surface craft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on a Navy ship in 2014. The Navy since then has been developing and installing additional SSL prototypes with improved capability for countering surface craft and UAVs. Higher-power SSLs being developed by the Navy are to have a capability for countering anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). Current Navy efforts to develop SSLs include

  • the Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort;
  • the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN);
  • the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) Increment 1, also known as the high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance (HELIOS); and
  • the High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP).

The first three SSL efforts listed above are included in what the Navy calls the Navy Laser Family of Systems (NFLoS).

The Navy had been developing EMRG since 2005. It was originally conceived as a naval surface fire support (NSFS) weapon for supporting Marines and other friendly forces ashore. Subsequently, it was determined that EMRG could also be used for air and missile defense, which for a time strengthened Navy interest in EMRG development.

As the Navy was developing EMRG, it realized that the guided projectile being developed for EMRG could also be fired from powder guns, including 5-inch guns on Navy cruisers and destroyers and 155 mm artillery guns operated by the Army and Marine Corps. The concept of firing the projectile from powder guns is referred to as GLGP and HVP.

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Report on Navy Laser, Railgun and Gun-Launched Guided Projectiles

The following is the Dec. 23, 2020, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress. Three new ship-based weapons being developed by the Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP), also known as the hypervelocity projectile (HVP)—could substantially improve the […]

The following is the Dec. 23, 2020, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Gun-Launched Guided Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress.

Three new ship-based weapons being developed by the Navy—solid state lasers (SSLs), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the gun-launched guided projectile (GLGP), also known as the hypervelocity projectile (HVP)—could substantially improve the ability of Navy surface ships to defend themselves against surface craft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and eventually anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).

The Navy has been developing SSLs for several years, and in 2014 installed on a Navy ship its first prototype SSL capable of countering surface craft and UAVs. The Navy since then has been developing and installing additional SSL prototypes with improved capability for countering surface craft and UAVs. Higher-power SSLs being developed by the Navy are to have a capability for countering ASCMs. Current Navy efforts to develop SSLs include:

  • the Solid State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) effort;
  • the Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (ODIN);
  • the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) Increment 1, also known as the high-energy laser with integrated optical dazzler and surveillance (HELIOS); and
  • the High Energy Laser Counter-ASCM Program (HELCAP).

The first three efforts above are included in what the Navy calls the Navy Laser Family of Systems (NFLoS) effort. NFLOS and HELCAP, along with technologies developed by other parts of DOD, are to support the development of future, more capable shipboard lasers.

The Navy has been developing EMRG for several years. It was originally conceived as a naval surface fire support (NSFS) weapon for supporting Marines and other friendly forces ashore. Subsequently, it was determined that EMRG could also be used for air and missile defense, which strengthened Navy interest in EMRG development. The Navy is continuing development work on EMRG, but it is unclear when production-model EMRGs will be installed on Navy ships. The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission requests $9.5 million in FY2021 for continued development of EMRG, but does not appear to program any additional development funding for EMRG in FY2022-FY2025.

As the Navy was developing EMRG, it realized that the guided projectile being developed for EMRG could also be fired from powder guns, including 5-inch guns on Navy cruisers and destroyers and 155 mm artillery guns operated by the Army and Marine Corps. The concept of firing the projectile from powder guns is referred to as GLGP and HVP. One potential advantage of HVP/GLGP is that, once developed, it can be rapidly deployed on Navy cruisers and destroyers and in Army and Marine Corps artillery units, because the powder guns in question already exist.

In addition to the question of whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s FY2021 funding requests for SSLs, EMRG, and HVP/GLGP, issues for Congress include the following:

  • whether the Navy is moving too quickly, too slowly, or at about the right speed in its efforts to develop these weapons;
  • the Navy’s plans for transitioning these weapons from development to procurement and fielding of production models aboard Navy ships; and
  • whether Navy the Navy’s shipbuilding plans include ships with appropriate amounts of space, weight, electrical power, and cooling capacity to accommodate these weapons.

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