The McKeon Group continues its success by using its unmatched national security experts to proactively review and forecast forthcoming and emerging technologies that will forever change how the Department of Defense fights wars.

As former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, and the national security staff at McKeon Group are proud to assist our clients in understanding the changing landscape of how wars are fought and what the battlefields of the future will look like. It is why the McKeon Group continues to help create strategies and continue our longstanding relationships with the Department of Defense leadership and the congressional committees of jurisdiction on behalf of our clients.

At a recent conference – Booz Allen Hamilton Directed Energy Summit 2017 – leadership from each of the military branches explained their positive outlook on directed energy and how it will further assist their various mission set requirements. Directed energy is seen to have an extremely bright future as it is quite different than traditional weapons like missiles, rockets, artillery, and mortars because it never runs out of ammunition and only costs whatever it takes to create that energy.

Recent Breakthroughs

There has been great progress made in the various types of lasers including, electric solid-state and fiber designs. Achievements have been made to create electrical power in a small enough system to be deployed on various platforms, including ships and planes. “The Navy, by virtue of its Laser Weapons System dubbed LaWS, has fielded the DoD’s first operational tactical laser on a ship, overcoming many of the policy and legal issues hindering deployment and utilization. Today, laser weapons have finally demonstrated sufficient technical maturity to allow for integration onto air platforms for potential self-defense and offensive missions in the next decade.”[1]

The U.S. Army is currently taking delivery of a 60-kilowatt laser from Lockheed Martin representing a world record for a laser of this type. This new system is being tested on the Army’s largest vehicle known as the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT). Lockheed is preparing to ship the new 60-kw laser to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Alabama. This type of directed energy system would be used as a mobile air defense system against threats like unmanned aircraft or traditional munitions like rockets, artillery and mortars.

Types of Directed Energy

When people think of directed energy, they often only think of lasers, but there are much broader uses of the technology other than simply burning a hole in something.

As an example, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has created the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), which is an unmanned system capable of flying into a contested area and disabling an adversary’s electronic systems. CHAMP offers a proven capability that allows the Air Force to defeat electronic systems in an enemy’s area without using kinetic weapons like missiles, bombs or explosives.

Another use of directed energy is for space situational awareness, which allows the ability to maneuver in space, which is a critical capability of the United States Air Force’s mission to fly, fight, and win in air, space and cyberspace. “The ability to exploit the characteristics of space gives the warfighter a competitive edge in virtually all engagements. As satellites get smaller and the number of space objects increases dramatically, research in imaging and identification of space objects is paramount to meeting the Air Force’s mission. To provide leadership in the area of space situational awareness, the Air Force conducts research in laser guide star adaptive optics, beam control, and space object identification.”[2]

At the Booz Allen Hamilton Directed Energy Summit 2017, Lt. Gen. Marshall B. Webb, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command, explained a theoretical operation and how a laser mounted on an orbiting AC-130J gunship may be used to disable an enemy truck and drone. He stated that he wants a test laser aboard such an aircraft within the next year.

The biggest issues facing the technical development of the lasers are the ability to control the beam, which is quite difficult as a result of jitter on an aircraft or ship and how it can be precisely controlled to hit its targets in these environments. The Department of Defense does maintain a policy called the Predictive Avoidance Doctrine, which does not allow the shooting of lasers at things unless the trigger-puller knows exactly where the beam will end. This is still a difficult challenge both legally, ethically and technically to overcome.

The McKeon Group will continue to track and follow developments in the directed energy space as it inches closer to being forward deployed in the coming years. As a firm, we look forward to working with our current and prospective clients to design comprehensive strategies to work with the United States Congress and the Department of Defense to ensure our warfighters have the most advanced technologies wherever they may be operating.


[1] Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate. Kirtland Air Force Base. Accessed April 03, 2017. http://www.kirtland.af.mil/Units/AFRL-Directed-Energy-Directorate.

[2] Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate Starfire Optical Range (SOR).” Kirtland Air Force Base. Accessed April 03, 2017. http://www.kirtland.af.mil/Units/AFRL-Directed-Energy-Directorate.