Not Fiction: Pentagon wants more for Lasers

US Air Force Research Lab

Writing for Defense One, a news service supported by Northrop Grumman, technology editor Patrick Tucker reports the U.S. military will soon request more funding to develop lasers, microwave beams, and other directed-energy defenses to fight off missiles and drone swarms. 

In preparation for launch, the NROL-39 payload is transported and mated to its Atlas V booster at Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-3. (ULA)

“You’re going to see, in upcoming budgets for missile defense, a renewed emphasis on laser scaling [power increases] across several technologies,” Michael Griffin, defense undersecretary for research and engineering, said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic International Studies Tuesday.

Griffin, a former NASA administrator, has previously floated the idea of firing neutral particle beams from satellites to disable enemy missiles shortly after launch.

“In units of ones or twos, we can roll out tens of kilowatts. That is within a factor of two or three of being useful on a battlefield, airplane or ship” — for example, to take out enemy drone swarms, he said. “In my opinion, we are no more than a few years away from having laser weapons of military utility.”

A space-based weapon that could take out boost-phase missiles would have to be much more powerful, in the megawatt class, he said. Breakthroughs in solid-state, so-called combined fiber lasers mean such lasers are “not right around the corner, but that’s not utterly out of reach, either,” he said.

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About the author:  Patrick Tucker is the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years and has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.

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