New Pentagon R&E Chief Gung-Ho About Directed Energy
Photo: Defense Dept.
The Defense Department’s new undersecretary for research and engineering wants to put renewed emphasis on several types of directed energy weapons as the United States seeks to stay ahead of peer competitors.
Michael Griffin, who was installed in his position just a few weeks ago, worked on these technologies earlier in his career including when he was part of the strategic defense initiative during the Cold War. SDI envisioned using space-based lasers and other capabilities to shoot down enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Reenergizing directed energy efforts is a top priority, Griffin said. However, he isn’t just interested in “big lasers.”
“In the heyday of directed energy we were working on high-power microwaves, we were working on several flavors of lasers … and we were working on neutral particle beam weapons,” he noted March 21 during a speech at the annual Directed Energy Summit in Washington, D.C., which was hosted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Each of these capabilities has its own advantages and disadvantages, he said. For example, high-power microwaves can effect an electronic kill. These systems and neutral particle beams have the advantage of being non-attributable and they don’t leave behind debris, he said.
Interest in directed energy waned after the end of the Cold War. But as competition with China and Russia heats up again, there is growing support on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for investing in the technology, Griffin said. It is one of the high-tech capabilities mentioned in the 2018 national defense strategy, he noted.
Among these types of weapons, the most attention is often paid to high-power lasers.
“As we come out of the Slough of Despond in directed energy into an environment that is more welcoming of our contributions, we should not lose our way with some of the other technologies that were pioneered in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s and now stand available for renewed effort,” he said.
In his new capacity as undersecretary for research and engineering, Griffin said he will be “very welcoming of other approaches [to directed energy] that may not have had a lot of focus in recent years or recent decades.”
The R&E chief said he has already been approached by individuals advocating for large laser systems or other pet projects. However, many types of directed energy technologies show promise, and it would be unwise for the Defense Department to put all of its eggs in one basket and prematurely kill off research-and-development efforts, he added.
“I would not want to deploy the [budgetary] scythe too soon,” he said. “I would urge us to keep a lot of arrows in our quiver as we go forward figuring out how we’re going to translate directed energy technologies into warfighting systems that are going to defend this country and our allies.”