Pentagon Research Arms Focus on Cyber, ISR, Lasers

Military leaders from within the science and technology community told lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill that emerging anti-access/area-denial threats and a rapidly changing global technological environment have shaped investments in Pentagon scientific research and next-generation weapons development.

Officials from across the services and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency said the Pentagon plans to boost investments in research for cyber defense, electronic warfare directed energy weapons as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.

“DoD leadership has made a strategic choice to protect S&T wherever possible. We did this to provide options for the future as well as meet new challenges that have technological dimensions,” Alan Shaffer, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities

Shaffer cited the instability in Syria as well as the threats coming from North Korea and the cyber attacks emanating from China as real time events that have led the Pentagon’s research arms in what technologies they plan to pursue.

Shaffer added that while the $12 billion FY ‘14 budget request includes a slight increase over the prior year’s request, the S&T efforts are being adversely impacted by the ongoing sequester. He explained that the roughly 9 percent across the board reduction caused by the sequester will result in terminations and delays of various key efforts, such as hiring new scientists, awarding university grants and scholarships.

Specifically, Shaffer said the sequester could result in the reduction of university grants by as much as $200 million.

“Each of these actions will have a negative long term impact on the department and upon national security,” Shaffer explained.

“Anti-access/area-denial” is a Pentagon buzz word in which the military brass has focused the defense strategy laid out in 2011. The concept is one in which generals and admirals have explained that military forces will likely not operate a combat environment like it saw in Iraq and Afghanistan where U.S. aircraft and ships faced few threats.

More specifically, this means that many nations, particularly some in the Pacific theater toward which the U.S. focus is currently pivoting, possess longer-range ballistic missiles along with electronic and cyber warfare capabilities which could make it much more difficult for U.S. forces, such as ships, to operate in uncontested.  In short, the U.S. monopoly upon technological superiority is no longer what it was even five to ten years ago, many analysts explain.

As part of their testimony before the subcommittee, each of the services offered details regarding recent accomplishments in these areas as well as evidence of developmental S&T progress with a mind to the future.

As a lead in the cyber-domain, the Air Force offered a joint cyber roadmap for the Pentagon, said David Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition.

“The Air Force has placed a great emphasis upon cyber S&T to overcome threats – and we have provided systems and methods that are affordable and resilient. Using the Air Force’s Cyber 2025 as a blueprint – we’ve developed and are executing a cyber S&T strategy,” he told the Subcommittee.

Walker also cited the Air Force’s efforts to better enable aircraft to operate in a more-contested electromagnetic and/or “jamming” environment.

“As the lead for the Department of Defense’s electronic warfare priority steering council, the AF is facilitating the road-mapping effort for research and revolutionary new technologies and techniques to be effective in the ever-evolving electronic warfare threat and provide an ability to operate in the anti-access/area denial environment. Manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum can help us negate the integrated air defenses of our adversaries,” he said.

Along these lines, Walker cited a recent test of the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), a directed energy weapon designed to counter electromagnetic signals from adversaries.

Directed energy with a mind to Anti-Access/Aerial Denial was also a large focus of Navy S&T communities’ presentation to the subcommittee, with a specific reference being paid to the service’s successfully tested Laser Weapon’s System (LaWS).

The Navy plans to deploy LaWS, a high-energy solid-state laser weapon engineered to counter UAS, small, fast-boats and a range of other threats, aboard the USS Ponce as part of an ongoing demonstration effort to advance the technology and afford Sailors and ship crews with additional, low-cost protective capability, said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.

“LaWS leverages a rugged, robust prototype laser weapon against enemy surface and air threats. Solid-state laser maturation efforts offer the Navy and Marine Corps deep magazines and affordable solutions. We will continue to duplicate this kind of success in our other programs,” Klunder told the subcommittee.

Electronics, cyber capabilities and substantial next-generation leap-ahead technologies were heavily emphasized by Arati Prabhakar, director of DARPA. She said some of DARPA’s work in the cyber domain is aimed at helping warfighters use cyber capabilities as a tactical tool fully integrated with the “kinetic fight.”


“We are building a new generation of electronic warfare that can leap-frog what others around the world are doing with globally available technology,” she said.


DARPA has made great progress developing sophisticated Inertial Measurement Units which can reduce the military’s reliance upon GPS and more easily integrate with smaller, more mobile platforms, Prabhakar said.


“These IMUs use nano-technology fabrication to shrink devices that are vast and consume a lot of power – to a size that allows them to be embedded in much smaller platforms,” she said.

Mary Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Research and Technology, cited the ongoing work with lighter-weight protective vehicle armor. She explained that the Army is currently refining a 30-year modernization plan.t

“The very nature of S&T is to exploit opportunities to transition capability to the current force and address both current and future threat environments. We want to ensure that we remain the most capable Army in the world,” Miller explained.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • blight_

    University grants are more cost effective research than employing Lockmart to do your “basic research” for you.

    Of course, grad students and PI’s don’t have people on Capitol Hill looking out for them…

  • blight_

    Hilarious modest proposal: Weaponize this.……

  • Rob C.

    Development of new system is critical. However they got manage finanical side of these too.

    I wonder how LaWS is going work out for the Navy. Looks like they lost use of the ship’s flight deck to host this experiment. They’d have to actually end up using it in combat to really prove its worth effort build platform for it, never mind rebuild ships for utilize it.

  • Warfighter

    It’s still not clear to me how a laser is more effective (cost/performance/coverage/weight) against small boats than, say, setting up a dozen .50s on stabilized mounts or RWS on either side of the ship?

    I understand its a prototype, and eventually I imagine it will be small enough to fit into something like a phalanx, and they are invarably going to be more accurate than a KE solution, and hopefully limit collateral damage if they are employed in a high traffic area (though I imagine specular reflection of the beam off the wter could be interesting to manage). Are these lasers offering superior range? Is the time they need to burn a hole through an outboard motor going to be comparably less than if one were to attemp th same engagement conventionally?

  • naveed

    good post