News   Armed With Science

Ready, Aim, Fire: Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Lasers

April 25, 2019 | BY David Vergun
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The Defense Department's enduring mission is to provide combat-ready forces to deter war and protect the security of the United States. One of the ways DOD maintains the competitive edge of its troops is through a diverse system of research and development laboratories.

DOD laboratories design new tools for cyber defense, evaluate new concepts for autonomous vehicles and advance military-critical technology in areas such as advanced computing, "big data" analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology.

Some of this innovative work was on display during the third biennial DOD Lab Day at the Pentagon. Lab Day is a chance for DOD to showcase the work being done by its scientists and engineers to benefit warfighters.


The Air Force Research Laboratory showcased its hypersonic flight research that includes achievement of a major milestone: completing the critical design review of the X-60A liquid rocket. It will now move to the fabrication phase. In 2020, the X-60A will be airdropped in its first flight test.

Rocket zooms high in the sky.
X-60A Launch
An artist's sketch of an Air Force X-60A launch.
Photo By: Air Force illustration
VIRIN: 181003-F-F3456-1001C

Directed Energy

The Air Force Research Laboratory showed its conceptual high-power microwave systems, a class of directed energy weapons where a very short, extremely high power burst of energy is transmitted to create a wide variety of effects on a target, often focused on its electronics components.

Plane zaps city with microwaves.
Microwave Weapon
A conceptual drawing of the high-power microwave weapon.
Photo By: Jeanne D. Dailey, Air Force
VIRIN: 100831-F-JZ024-602C


Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center's High Energy Laser Project consists of two types of lasers:

  • A High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator, which will consist of a 100 kilowatt-class laser to be tested against a variety of targets in three years; and
  • The Multi-Mission High Energy Laser, which will consist of a 50 kW-class laser to be tested in two years.

Truck parked in grass.
High Energy Laser
The Army fields a high energy laser weapon mounted on a tactical vehicle, Jan. 1, 2018
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 180212-A-N1234-028C

The Office of Naval Research displayed an artist concept of its solid state laser-Tech Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator, which is intended to counter unmanned aerial systems and small fast attack craft.