In early January of this year, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) along with Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) wrote a letter on behalf of the Congressional Directed Energy Caucus (CDEC) to Secretary of Defense James Mattis outlining the necessity of prioritizing directed energy with the growing global threats in recent years. Heinrich emphasized that next generation systems, like directed energy technology, will allow the United States to remain technologically superior to potential adversaries.

Since the 1960’s, billions of dollars have been allocated to the advancement of directed energy technology with the approval of Congress. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) notably established a $300 million initiative in the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to maintain and enhance military technology. [1] Of this $300 million, $150 million was authorized specifically for directed energy weapons. There have been quite a few setbacks over the years for these types of energy systems to be implemented into the field. The requirements process has been the most talked about setback for the Department, in which, Heinrich suggests that this could possibly be that the belief is that sufficient kinetic capabilities exist, so an alternative is therefore not required. But this ignores the potential value of directed energy systems in terms of precise targeting and cost effectiveness.

Each branch of the US military is developing programs demonstrating successful advancements in directed energy technology. The Air Force developed the High-Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), the Army developed the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HELMD) and the Navy developed the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which is currently deployed abroad on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf. [2] These systems continue to be researched and developed to incinerate enemy drones and launch offensive attacks using directed energy technologies.

Congress, the Directed Energy Caucus and the Armed Services Committees, have urged the Department of Defense to dedicate sufficient resources and funding to implement the much-needed physical prototypes of directed energy weaponry. With sufficient resources, the military will be able to continue to design and implement the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) to further integrate matured directed energy systems into the field.

The Directed Energy Caucus has asked the Department of Defense to implement Section 219 of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law No: 114-328. This would designate a senior official to have the principal responsibility for the development and demonstration of directed energy weapons. If implemented, it is the belief that the development and demonstration process would be accelerated and therefore able to reach the goal of fielding an adequate system.

With congressional encouragement, many departments are actively seeking to raise the standard of directed energy technologies. For example, the U.S. Army recently received a 60-kilowatt laser from technology partner Lockheed Martin. This new laser is based on a design developed within the Robust Electric Laser Initiative Program through the Department of Defense.

In the FY2017 budget request, $674.3 million was allocated specifically for directed energy weapons by the Department of Defense. During the next five years, the Department says it will allocate $3.4 billion to directed energy systems and weapons according to Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold. He also notes that there is no solidified Department of Defense plan regarding direct energy systems, but there will be soon. The plan will be developed by Congress based on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Heithhold additionally added, “that is what I’m beginning to see out of our Congress — interest in rapidly prototyping current technologies rather than waiting for the perfect solution somewhere in the distant future.” [3]

The Pentagon has additionally made directed energy technologies a priority for the FY2018 budget. Officials in the Pentagon believe that the use of these lasers will dramatically decrease costs in the Department due to the option of either firing the laser or a million-dollar missile. The drawback is finding the proper power source for the laser. If found, the laser would not need a “refuel” for ammunition. Rather, it would need a “recharge” of the power source. By developing these directed energy technologies, the military believes it will be able to use the laser weaponry on several platforms to increase military readiness in the coming years.


[1] Jen Judson. “US Army gets world record-setting 60-kW laser.” Defense News. Accessed June 05, 2017. http://www.defensenews.com/articles/us-army-gets-world-record-setting-60kw-laser.

[2] Jen Judson. “US Army gets world record-setting 60-kW laser.” Defense News. Accessed June 05, 2017. http://www.defensenews.com/articles/us-army-gets-world-record-setting-60kw-laser.

[3] Yasmin Tadjdeh. “Special Operations Command Prepares to Test Airborne Directed Energy Weapon.” National Defense Magazine. Accessed June 05, 2017. http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/4/19/special-operations-command-prepares-to-test-airborne-directed-energy-weapon.