Pentagon Eyes Airborne Lasers for Missile Defense

July 14, 2015

Defense Tech:

The U.S. Defense Department recently began testing a laser that might someday be affixed to drones to knock incoming missiles out of the sky.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, nominated by the Obama administration to replace Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he agrees with Navy Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, on the need for the military to develop ways to thwart ballistic missiles earlier in flight, possibly with lasers.

“Current capabilities are limited to denial in the mid-course and beyond phases; we need to look for solutions across the entire ballistic missile kill chain,” Dunford said in written remarks submitted as part of his confirmation hearing last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The science shows a ballistic missile is comparatively easy to detect and track while boosting.”

He added, “Further, countermeasures on a missile, such as decoys designed to distract defensive systems, are not typically deployed until after the booster burns out. As such, boost-phase intercept is an attractive missile defense alternative.”

Dunford said he would support more funding to develop a boost-phase airborne laser weapon system for missile defense in the next decade, “but only if operationally, technically and economically practical. The current budget supports pursuit of a laser demonstrator. A laser potentially would be capable of acquiring, tracking, and eventually destroying an enemy missile at a much lower cost than existing systems…

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