WASHINGTON – The United States is steadily losing its technological edge as adversaries big and small ramp up their abilities to repel U.S. power projection into hazardous areas of the globe, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The solution? Blast ’em with lasers.
Within a decade, the U.S. military could field “directed energy,” or DE, weapons capable of taking out missiles and planes attacking ships and forward bases, according to “Changing the Game: The Promise of Directed-Energy Weapons.” Meanwhile, small lasers on planes and drones could one day destroy incoming threats while the aircraft attacked ground targets using other DE weapons, such as high-powered microwaves aimed at air defenses.
The benefits of lasers are many, the authors claim. For one, DE weapons don’t constantly run out of ammunition, allowing ships and drones to hang around an area engaging targets far longer than if they were relying on conventional missiles. And in an extended conflict overseas with supply lines potentially cut, it could mean not running out of ammo at the wrong time.
Cost could be another major advantage, the report says. Defending U.S. bases in the Pacific against a salvo of 30 Chinese ballistic missiles could require firing $700 million worth of interceptor missiles, it says. Ground-based lasers could fire fusillades of defensive shots that essentially cost the same as not shooting at all.
Though lasers are now too big to mount on small planes, they could be deployed defensively at bases and on ships within a few years if there was will within the Pentagon to do it, Mark Gunziger, lead author of the report, said on Thursday.
For now, the approximately $500 million the Pentagon spends a year on lasers is essentially research funding. But the technology is mature enough to start developing actual weapons systems and buying them, he said.
“There are things we do now that could truly change the game – that we don’t need to put off another 15 years until we have that perfect solution,” Gunziger said.