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DOD Officials Discuss Framework for Advancing Directed Energy Weapons

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The Defense Department is developing directed energy weapons — high-powered lasers and microwaves — in concert with industry in a way designed to achieve optimal outcomes.

A laser system points ahead.
Laser Test
During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System was able to engage and shoot down several air-launched missiles in flight, Jan. 25, 2017.
Photo By: Keith Lewis, Air Force
VIRIN: 170126-F-NQ323-002

Two DOD officials discussed the importance of developing an efficient and effective modular open system architecture, or MOSA, at the Booz Allen Hamilton-sponsored Directed Energy Series today: Chris Behre, the lead for directed energy, modular open system architecture in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and technical director of the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System Portfolio for Naval Surface Warfare Center's Dahlgren Division., and Dr. Sean Ross,  the deputy High Energy Laser Technical Area lead and prototyping liaison for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

MOSA is important because it allows components and subsystems of the weapon to be standardized, Behre said. That will allow for incremental system upgrades and minimize obsolescence, he explained, while reducing costs and shortening the developmental timeline.

A laser sits on a truck.
Stryker Vehicle
A 5-kilowatt laser sits on a Stryker armored vehicle. The laser, called the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser, was tested during the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Okla., April 5, 2017.
Photo By: Monica K. Guthrie, Army
VIRIN: 170405-A-BL368-457

One way to think of MOSA is as "guard rails to guide things — not hard, level requirements that stifle innovation," Behre said. Teams of engineers and DOD officials from each of the services and the Missile Defense Agency are working on developing a MOSA draft that will be available for comment by the acquisition community and industry in less than a year, he added. It's important that this work on MOSA standards is being done early in the process before programs of record emerge, he said.

Ross said that if MOSA is done right, it has strong potential to decrease market barriers. Nontraditional vendors with niche capabilities would want to compete, he said, and there could be an increase in small business involvement and innovation.

Laser weapons system subsystems include thermal management, laser weapon controller, beam control, laser source and power management, he noted. Industries that specialize in any of these subsystems would find a ready market within DOD if their designs show promise, he said.

A man and a woman, both in uniform, stand near a laser system.
Naval Ops
Former Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, gets a firsthand look at the directed energy laser weapon system aboard the interim afloat forward staging base USS Ponce in Manama, Bahrain, Nov. 26, 2014.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Peter Lawlor
VIRIN: 141126-N-WL435-293

MOSA allows for flexibility and not overprescribing, Ross said, citing two examples.

Within a laser system, the operating temperature of the diodes is one of the most important factors in laser effectiveness, he said. "It is one of the major swap drivers with competing effects," he continued. "The higher the diode temperature, the less efficient the laser is. However, the thermal management system works most efficiently with higher diode temperatures. So deciding an arbitrary temperature in the MOSA standard would be very risky and result in a suboptimal system."

The second example is based on the standard that the higher the voltage used in the laser, the lower the required weight of the copper conductive wires, he said. If the voltage is too high, he explained, there would be arcing and a corona effect — two undesirable outcomes.

A laser shoots across dark surroundings.
Laser Beam
Captured by a special camera, a laser beam, invisible to the naked eye, shoots across the dark expanse of the David Taylor Model Basin at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md., May 23, 2019.
Photo By: Leonard Pieton, Navy
VIRIN: 190523-N-N0204-1001C

The solution, Ross said, is for the government to come up with broad standards, letting industry come up with the finer details.

A successful MOSA standard is one that gets industry excited and eager to take on the challenges and run with it, he said. If the MOSA standards make no sense, he added, everyone will just ignore them and innovation and competition will come to a halt.

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