Lawmakers Back Military's Laser Weapon Programs



Congressional Republicans say they support the U.S. military's laser weapons and directed-energy programs designed to protect troops by zapping apart potential threats, from incoming rockets to drones flying overhead.

A panel of the House Armed Services Committee singled out the Army's Solid State Laser Testbed and the Navy's Laser Weapon System as "items of special interest" in its draft of the 2014 defense authorization bill, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

"The committee stresses the importance of directed energy research and encourages the Army's continuation of those efforts," according to language approved May 22 by the Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

The panel similarly backed the Navy program, including the service's plans to deploy the Laser Weapon System, or LaWS, aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce early next year for further testing.

It will be the first such deployment of the system after completing test shots last summer aboard the destroyer USS Dewey. The solid-state, infrared beam burned up dummy drones in evaluations in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

The legislation would require the secretaries of the Army and Navy to brief lawmakers on the demonstration programs and provide more information about the potential challenges of adopting the technology for wider use within the services, given its high-energy requirements.

Separately, the bill would also give lawmakers greater oversight of military intelligence operations. It calls for withholding half of the funding for the Pentagon's new Defense Clandestine Service, or DSC, until Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel certifies that the unit, part of the Defense Intelligence Agency, will fulfill requirements "otherwise unmet."

"The Defense Intelligence Agency has made good progress in developing and explaining the rationale behind the DCS," Thornberry said during a brief hearing. "But as a new organization, it should have greater scrutiny and if military resources are being used, we want to make sure that the defense intelligence priorities are being met, especially in this very tight budget."

The Pentagon next year plans to spend a total of $606 billion. That figure includes a base budget of $526.6 billion and $79.4 billion for the war in Afghanistan, according to figures the department disclosed on May 20. It doesn’t include the next round of automatic federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, which may total as much as $51 billion.

The full committee on June 5 is expected to vote on the bill, H.R.1960.

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