Congress gets serious about laser weapons in defense bill

The U.S. military is set to see a 51 percent increase in funding to develop and procure laser weapons, a technologically-advanced “game-changer” as troops prepare for new and growing asymmetric threats around the world.

The 2017 defense bill signed last week by President Obama authorized roughly $328 million for the development and procurement of these weapons. That’s a 51 percent increase from 2016 spending levels. Lawmakers cited the progress made by the Defense Department as a key reason for the boost.

“The Department of Defense has made significant advances in the development and operational demonstration of directed-energy weapons systems,” according to the bill. “Each military department has demonstrated a marquee program in this area, such as the Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS) deployed on the USS Ponce, the Army High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL-MD), and the Marine Corps’ Ground Based Air Defense System (GBAD).”

Laser weapons continue “to offer promise as a transformational ‘game changer’ as the DoD encounters new asymmetric and disruptive threats while facing increasingly sophisticated traditional challenges,” a government
task force on directed-energy weapons reported.

And the need for mobile ground-based air defense systems for ground forces goes beyond the increasing technological capabilities of Russia and China. It also targets the growing threat and proliferation of drone use by terrorist and non-state actor groups. 

Just this October, U.S. troops were faced with threats of
exploding drones operated by ISIS fighters besieged in Mosul; and in August, video surfaced of 
attack drones being operated by the Iranian proxy militia, Hezbollah in Syria. 

To prepare for the growing challenges faced by U.S. forces, such as the proliferation of drone technology, ballistic missile systems and small boat threats to U.S. and allied vessels, each military service is developing laser weapon systems.

With U.S. forces operating in highly dense civilian populations, the ability to discriminate enemy targets becomes a must, and “laser systems enable precision ground attack to minimize collateral damage in urban conflicts and in…

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