Lawmakers Move to Block Missile Defense Laser

Senate appropriators have rejected a U.S. Missile Defense Agency proposal to provide $44.5 million in fiscal 2013 for placing a laser armament on a massive, developmental unmanned aerial vehicle produced by defense contractor Boeing, Wired magazine reported on Friday (see GSN, May 1).

Already, "no less than five separate directed energy science and technology programs ongoing in the Department of Defense, none of which have clearly defined and funded transition plans into programs of record,” Senate Appropriations Committee members stated.

They added: “The committee now understands that the Missile Defense Agency intends to award a noncompetitive, sole-source contract” for Boeing to place the laser system on its Phantom Eye aircraft.

The deal would cover “integration of the yet-to-be-developed directed energy capability onto a high-altitude, long-endurance platform that itself is currently under development,” according to the lawmakers. The 150-foot-wide, hydrogen-fuel plane was initially submitted as a potential means of reconnaissance; planners hope it will eventually be capable of remaining 65,000 feet above the ground for 96 consecutive hours.

“The committee questions both the operational relevance of this scientific program,” the panel said, “as well as the overall acquisition strategy during times of fiscal restraint.”

The Pentagon in February transferred into long-term storage the experimental aircraft for its Airborne Laser program, a $4 billion, 16-year-old initiative to create a plane-mounted energy weapon capable of downing enemy ballistic missiles. Reports emerged late last year that the Defense Department branch would shutter the effort (see GSN, Feb. 15).

The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, though, called this spring for $75 million to “to preserve the skilled work force that was involved in the Airborne Laser Test Bed program and to accelerate experimentation with next-generation directed energy system development.” Under the proposal, related trials would incorporate “planned testing of the Phantom Eye system” (Shachtman/Ackerman, Wired, Aug. 3).

August 6, 2012
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Senate appropriators have rejected a U.S. Missile Defense Agency proposal to provide $44.5 million in fiscal 2013 for placing a laser armament on a massive, developmental unmanned aerial vehicle produced by defense contractor Boeing, Wired magazine reported on Friday.

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