Members of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) High Power Lasers (HPL) Task Force, comprised of leading defense contractors, commercial laser companies and academia, today announced recommendations to improve US defense operations and regain our nation's manufacturing stronghold.
The recommendations, unveiled in conjunction with today's Directed Energy Summit in Washington, DC, call for the establishment of a directed energy program office that will serve to coordinate US manufacturing of high power lasers.
"US funding for high power laser programs has declined over the last decade, just as technology is on the cusp of practical implementation for the warfighter," said Eugene Arthurs, co-chair of the NPI HPL Task Force and CEO of SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). "High volume manufacturing of high power lasers is key to drive both technology improvements and further reduce costs for the growing use in advanced manufacturing."
Currently, volume manufacturing of high power lasers is moving offshore, where technology transfer enables foreign defense threats that erode the US industrial base. At the same time, foreign competition has expanded rapidly – particularly in China and Russia. A directed energy program office will also serve to enhance policies that intelligently protect critical technologies while not inhibiting the success of US exporting companies.
"The United States is a global leader in manufacturing high power lasers, but the US industrial base is losing its competitive advantage," said Scott Keeney, co-chair of the NPI HPL Task Force and CEO of nLight. "Investing in a directed energy program office will support a coordinated strategy that not only ensures the domestic supply of critical components required for high power lasers for defense but also supports commercial applications such as cutting, welding and additive manufacturing."
Optics and photonics, the science and application of light, is a major part of many high performance systems used by the military, including high power laser weapons. Directed energy weapons using high power solid state lasers offer ultra-precise targeting, low cost per use and a nearly unlimited magazine. In some situations, laser weapons are the only practical method of countering new threats.
"Optics and photonics enabled technologies presently equip our troops with the tools they need to achieve their missions more safely and efficiently," said Alan Willner, chair of the NPI Steering Committee. "Unlike previous laser applications that required significant advances in fundamental science and technology, the high power laser technology required for many directed energy applications is now ready to make a major impact. The NPI HPL Task Force looks forward to working with government and industry partners to develop a directed energy program office to coordinate and deploy this cutting-edge technology."
The NPI partnered with the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS) to establish the HPL Task Force and produce recommendations.