The Department of Defense has awarded $17 million in a deal that will leverage the expertise of Boeing, the Air Force’s Starfire Optical Range and the University of New Mexico’s engineering school for the development of directed energy laser weapons. The announcement was made earlier this week by Senator Martin Heinrich at the Boeing facility in Albuquerque.
Heinrich is the founder of the Congressional Directed Energy Caucus, which supports greater development and deployment of smaller, more economical lasers and high-energy microwave systems for the military. The senator touted the contributions the research could have in defense of the country, as well as in bringing new engineering jobs to the state.
Unfortunately, advancements in laser weaponry are not exclusive to the U.S. Late last year, it was reported that Russia’s Armed Forces have begun working with prototype laser weapons. Additionally, most military experts feel that Russia was the first country to achieve significant results in the field of laser weaponry and progressed more quickly than their U.S. counterparts. This makes the announcement even more prominent in light of recent geopolitical events.
The primary uses of laser weaponry fall into three primary applications:
- The first would be aircraft-mounted lasers that could disrupt optoelectronic equipment, sensors, and radar in countering reconnaissance systems at sea and on land. Current applications for this technology focus on targeting foreign intercontinental ballistic missiles.
- Another would be Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones used for sea-based ballistic missile defense, jamming electronic surveillance and targeting homing guidance systems.
- Finally, these weapons could be used by ground forces in rendering electronic equipment ineffective.
So, in addition to generating jobs for New Mexico and interesting headlines for sci-fi fans, this work on advanced energy weaponry has paradigm-shifting potential. Not only do military grade lasers offer greater efficiency from an operational perspective, but their impact goes beyond targeting individual soldiers. These weapons carry the potential to leave an entire fighting force without the ability to detect the enemy, communicate its activities, or prepare for an attack.