Managing Expectations

Directed-energy weapons will earn their way onto warfighting platforms soon, but will not be as powerful as once imagined. At least not yet, Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski said Thursday at the Directed Energy Summit hosted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington, D.C. Pawlikowski described how the service’s airborne laser program, which spanned more than a decade and ended without a fieldable system despite billions in investment, showed that it’s important to match expectation with capability. For instance, she said, the current state of laser technology is advanced enough for defensive, but not offensive, systems to be mounted on Air Force platforms like the F-35 and C-130J. More powerful lasers are more complex and require a lot of energy. She noted the Air Force is initiating a defensive program called Shield that will use a laser for air-to-air defense, but might not be powerful enough to take down enemy aircraft. “For every pound, and for every kilowatt of power that that directed-energy weapons take, something else has to come off,” Pawlikowski said. “I think as long as we calibrate our expectations, [then] we can make that significant step to actually … [field] this capability and put [it] into the hands of the warfighter and let him see what he can do with it.”