Tag Archives: Lasers

Dynamite at the Speed of Light: How Directed Energy Can Transform the U.S. Navy

By Tim McGeehan and Douglas Wahl


On December 7, 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Stark issued the directive “Execute Against Japan Unrestricted Air and Submarine Warfare.”  This was the opening phase of America’s strategy to engage Japan in a long war of attrition. Japan, on the other hand, had hoped for a short and limited war that would be concluded before America could fully mobilize. The American population, economy, and industrial base were asymmetric advantages that the Japanese could not hope to counter in the long run. Simply put, we could replace combat losses of people and platforms while they could not.

Now, our potential adversaries favor Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategies that seek to keep our military at arm’s length and limit our power projection. Underlying this strategy is the familiar concept of attrition. To fight the “away game” our military will have to successfully penetrate multi-layered defenses extending well offshore and survive continuous engagement to carry the fight to our adversaries’ homeland. The recent proliferation of technology including long-range sensors, anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, and electronic warfare capabilities that aim to disrupt our command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) are making their A2/AD strategies increasingly viable.

While our Navy is accustomed to fighting the “away game,” attrition is a strategy we can ill afford today. Unlike World War II, with the 24-hour news cycle and the speed of information via the Internet, the United States can no longer politically accept a war with heavy losses of personnel or platforms. We no longer possess the production facilities to rapidly replace extensive combat losses of materiel that we could in World War II. Though we are the world’s largest Navy, our number of capital ships is limited and future investments to numerically grow the Fleet must be weighed against the need for development of advanced capabilities. If we are going to successfully engage adversaries relying on A2/AD strategies, our Navy needs bold and innovative solutions that can successfully counter their attrition focus.

The Salvo Competition

Sun Tzu reminds us that it is most important to attack the enemy’s strategy and we need to do just that. A key aspect our adversaries rely on to achieve the desired attrition is winning the “salvo competition.” As we approach their coasts, our adversaries believe they can overwhelm our ships based on the sheer number of long-range anti-ship and ballistic missiles they can deliver versus the more limited number we can defend against based on our current magazine depth. Our surface ships have advanced “hard kill” point defenses such as the Standard Missile (SM-2), Close-in-Weapon System (CIWS), Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), and SeaRAM. No matter how effective these systems are, they may run out of missiles and ordnance long before our adversary does, opening the door to unsustainable losses. To help increase survivability, the Navy is upgrading our softkill systems such as AN/SLQ-32 as part of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).1 However, as the sophistication of adversary weapons continuously increases, the continued ability of these systems to adapt is uncertain.

We need to turn the tables on attrition by changing the asymmetric balance of the salvo competition between A2/AD assets and power-projecting naval forces. However, we cannot continue to rely on incremental advances by linearly extrapolating our capabilities; instead we must take advantage of highly non-linear opportunities provided by leveraging emerging technology. In 2015, former CNO Admiral Greenert challenged the Science and Technology community to “get us off gunpowder.”The Navy needs to rise to this challenge and accelerate the investment, development, and fielding of directed energy weapons across the Fleet.3

Technologies and Advantages

Directed energy weapons offer many advantages to help us defeat an A2/AD strategy, increasing lethality and survivability while decreasing cost and logistical burdens. With a range exceeding 100 nautical miles, the Electromagnetic Rail Gun (EMRG) can execute multiple missions at significantly greater range than today’s “conventional” gun systems, including anti-surface, naval surface fire support (NSFS), air defense, and ballistic missile defense.4 Additionally, although the existing Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) and strike aircraft have strike ranges greater than the EMRG, many targets will be well within the EMRG’s range which would allow us to husband those more limited and expensive strike resources. Additionally, the EMRG round’s small size, high speed, and kinetic energy make it extremely hard to intercept or defend against. Technical progress continues, working toward the future fielding of EMRG at sea.5

The solid-state 30 kilowatt (kW) Laser Weapons System (LaWS), on the other hand, was already operationally deployed on the USS Ponce in the U.S. Central Command AOR in 2014.6 It demonstrated the ability to disable an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), disable a small boat engine, and detonate ammunition.Follow-on Navy efforts continue: at the 2017 Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium, Rear Admiral Boxall, Director of Surface Warfare, announced plans to test fire a 150 kW weapon from a ship in the near future, and at the 2018 SNA symposium it was announced that USS Portland will soon host a new laser system in another technology demonstration.8 Likewise, efforts are underway with the Navy’s High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-Dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) project (60kW with potential growth to 150kW) as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) project (in the 150 kW range), which may present future opportunities for demonstration at sea.9

LaWS test (U.S. Navy video)

High-powered microwave weapons are another category of directed energy weapons that could be soon employed at sea. High power microwaves can be used for electronic attack to destroy or disrupt specific components of adversary communication and sensor systems or even be applied to counter- improvised explosive device (IED) operations.10 In 2012, the Air Force Research Lab successfully demonstrated the Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) that developed an air-launched cruise missile outfitted with a high-power microwave payload.11

Collectively, these directed energy weapons will allow us to counter A2/AD by winning the salvo competition. The small size of EMRG rounds also translates into a vastly expanded magazine when compared to the limited number of Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells of our current surface combatants. LaWS and high-powered microwave weapons go even further, offering a virtually bottomless magazine, limited only by power generation. These new weapons also shift the cost curve in our favor. For short-range strike missions, a TLAM costs between $1.1 and 1.4 million12 per missile and an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet flying over the beach costs $80+ million,13 not including the cost to recruit, train, and maintain the pilot. On the defensive side, existing Naval surface-to-air missiles vary in cost from about $900,000 for a RAM to over $20 million for an SM-3 Block IIA for ballistic missile defense.14 In contrast, an EMRG round costs $25,000 and LaWS costs $1 per shot, making them extremely cost effective alternatives.15 The combination of decreased physical size and lower cost will also enable our surface Fleet to counter the missile, UAV, and small boat swarms of A2/AD without being overwhelmed. 

Another aspect of countering the A2/AD attrition calculus is increasing survivability. In today’s environment almost any hit to a ship is a mission kill, which places a premium on not getting hit in the first place. The increased range of EMRG allows for increased standoff distance during littoral strike or naval surface fire support missions in support of forces ashore. LaWS could engage incoming missiles at a greater range than existing CIWS systems, which have such short range that shrapnel from a destroyed anti-ship missile could still have enough kinetic energy to damage a ship and provide a mission kill. The EMRG could even be armed with a “point defense” projectile that deploys submunitions of flechette, airburst, or grapeshot against incoming threats. The increased power systems required for EMRG could also enable more powerful electronic warfare capabilities that in turn could defeat incoming missiles. However, the shift to directed energy weapons will have the greatest boost to surface ship survivability because they lack what is traditionally the most vulnerable part of the ship – the explosives in its magazine. Storing explosive rounds and propellants onboard also necessitates additional damage control systems and armor, which could be reduced, allowing tradeoffs in the constant naval architecture balance of size and weight.

Directed energy weapons also have a second order benefit in countering A2/AD by decreasing our logistics burden. Our surface Fleet is constrained and restrained by logistics – specifically our supply ships that are an often overlooked critical vulnerability. While our forward deployed Fleet relies almost exclusively on them for the resupply of food, parts, and fuel, there are very few of these ships in the inventory. On top of their limited availability, logistic ships have limited defenses and in a hostile environment will require an armed escort, which will in turn detract from forces available for the fight. Moreover, they have to cover long distances to and from logistics hubs. With directed energy weapons, our Fleet could have deeper magazines and still trade some space to carry more fuel, parts, and stores. This would reduce the Fleet’s dependence on combat replenishment, both limiting the exposure of and the burden on these scarce, vulnerable assets. Furthermore, replenishment of EMRG magazines could occur at sea and on station. Reloading of VLS cells, on the other hand, currently must be done pier-side in port, in a protected anchorage, or in optimal conditions at sea.16 Depending on the availability of these areas and their proximity to the front, combatants may incur a significant loss of time on station while transiting to and from them.

The logistical benefits of directed energy weapons may extend beyond the A2/AD environment. In future conflicts we may have to begin the fight closer to home – against enemy submarines and forward deployed long-range aircraft. Fighting our way across the ocean will entail long transits before we even get in position to fight the “away game” in our adversary’s waters. Reducing the frequency of required resupply operations will reduce the exposure and vulnerability of our limited logistics force.

Questions, Barriers, and Integration

There are additional force structure, strategic laydown, and force employment questions to consider with the adoption of directed energy weapons. How will the integration of weapons like EMRG and LaWS and their assumption of air defense and short-range strike missions impact the future requirements and composition of the Air Wing and the Strike Group? In the future, with drastically deeper magazines, one ship will have the capacity of several existing ships. Since the number of ships on station is often related to the aggregate number and type of missiles in their VLS cells, will there be a decreased requirement for the number of ships and submarines to be in theater or on station? It is true that a ship can only be in one place at a time, but with the longer range each EMRG ship could impact a greater area.

EMRG test (U.S. Navy video via AiirSource)

Could the aircraft carrier reach a point where it won’t require a “shotgun” and strike group escorts can be detached for independent operations? Could an EMRG equipped DDG-1000 holding the bulk of the theater’s projectile and missile magazines act as an “arsenal ship” that challenges the aircraft carrier as the new premier capital ship? How will directed energy weapons impact manpower? Will the technicians who maintain and operate directed energy systems and their power supplies be lured away by a private industry focusing on the next generation of battery and energy storage technology – similar to the way the defense contractor UAV market has recruited UAV pilots out of the Air Force? Will EMRG find uses beyond weapons delivery? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has considered building a massive EMRG to launch objects into space.17 Could a Navy EMRG someday be used to inject nanosatellites into low-earth orbit and rapidly reconstitute or augment a constellation in response to adversary attacks on our space-based systems? 

With a reduced footprint and fewer electrical requirements, LaWS (or its successor) can be deployed on a wider variety of platforms. However, USS Ponce’s laser was powered by a diesel engine independent of the ship’s power system. Likewise, during a test onboard USS Dewey (DDG-105), LaWS was powered by an independent, commercial generator system and not integrated into the ship’s power grid.18 Fielding EMRG on a vessel will require it to be able to accommodate the equipment for energy generation and storage, pulse forming, and cooling. Even with expected achievements in increased battery storage and power production, the EMRG will likely have to be installed on larger platforms such as the DDG-1000 to be feasible. But given there will be just three Zumwalt destroyers, the Navy will only be able to reap the benefits of directed energy with the next generation of surface combatants (absent a technological revolution that would enable it to be fielded on today’s combatants) and therefore directed energy must play a key role in setting the requirements for these ships.  The Navy requires additional enablers to realize and take advantage of directed energy weapons and harness the technological advances in battery technology from firms like Tesla as they move from powering cars to powering homes and building smart electrical grids.

There are risks associated with fielding directed energy weapons. As electronics-intensive systems, will they require significant modification of their components to shield against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and microwave weapons? Likewise, the environmental impact of environments featuring extensive dust, sand, precipitation, and clouds for weapons like LaWS are unclear. Will LaWS be a ‘fair weather’ weapon and require redundant foul-weather backup capability such as the CIWS? Finally, there are damage control concerns with the extensive battery systems. Can a ship’s crew repair battle damage at sea, swap out modular battery components, or fight hurt?  

The issues extend beyond the technical barriers. Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote “an improvement of weapons is due to the energy of one or two men, while changes in tactics have to overcome the inertia of a conservative class.”19  Experimentation like the demonstrations of LaWS on the USS Ponce are important, but integrating new capabilities into major exercises and wargames will be required to prove new capabilities, develop tactics, techniques, and procedures, and overcome skepticism from those who are heavily invested in outdated systems and concepts.


The U.S. Navy must continue to leverage emerging technology to counter adversary A2/AD strategies. Directed energy weapons offer a means of denying attrition by winning the salvo competition and increasing survivability. We are on the verge of realizing the full potential of these game-changing technologies. Fielding them across the Fleet will have implications that span most aspects of the Navy, from force structure to strategic laydown, and from missions to personnel. Any change in weapons or tactics involves risk but we must not shy away from it if we are to remain ahead. In the words of President Eisenhower from his First Inaugural Address “We must be ready to dare all for our country. For history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”20

Tim McGeehan is a U.S. Navy Officer currently serving in Washington.

Douglas T. Wahl is a Systems Engineer at Science Applications International Corporation.

 The ideas presented are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or Science Applications International Corporation. 

This article is an adaptation from an essay that was awarded Second Place in the 2016 U.S. Naval Institute’s 2016 Emerging & Disruptive Technologies Essay Contest which was sponsored by Leidos.


[1] http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2100&tid=475&ct=2

[2] David Smalley, CNO: Here’s What We Need for the Future Force, Navy News Service, February 5, 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=85464

[3] Note that for the purposes of this report “directed energy weapons” includes electromagnetic railgun

[4] Office of Naval Research Fact Sheet, Electromagnetic Railgun, http://www.onr.navy.mil/Media-Center/Fact-Sheets/Electromagnetic-Railgun.aspx

[5] Sydney Freedberg, Navy Railgun Ramps up in Test Shots, Breaking Defense, May 19, 2017, https://breakingdefense.com/2017/05/navy-railgun-ramps-up-in-test-shots/

[6] David Smalley, Historic Leap: Navy Shipboard Laser Operates in the Arabian Gulf, Navy News, December 10, 2014, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=84805

[7] Sam LaGrone, U.S. Navy Allowed to Use Persian Gulf Laser for Defense, USNI, December 11, 2014, http://news.usni.org/2014/12/10/u-s-navy-allowed-use-persian-gulf-laser-defense

[8] Maike Fabey and Kris Osborn, The U.S. Navy is Moving at Warp Speed to Develop Super Lasers, The National Interest, January 24, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-us-navy-moving-warp-speed-develop-super-lasers-19165 ; Megan Eckstein, LPD Portland Will Host ONR Laser Weapon Demonstrator, Serve as RIMPAC 2018 Flagship, USNI News, January 10, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2018/01/10/lpd-portland-selected-host-onr-laser-weapon-demonstrator-serve-rimpac-2018-flagship

[9] John Wallace, General Atomics to build a second 150 kW HELLADS military laser, this one for the U.S. Navy, January 29, 2013, Laser Focus World,  http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/2013/01/general-atomics-to-build-a-second-150-kw-hellads-military-laser-.html ; DARPA, Notice of Intent to Award Sole Source Contract For High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) Laser, FebBizOps, January 17, 2013, https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=f05c2a61208344f5e3586e17b60127d3&tab=core&_cview=0 ; DARPA Press Release, HELLADS Laser Achieves Acceptance For Field Testing, May 21, 2015, http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-05-21-2 ; Ronald O’Rourke, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, December 8, 2017, Congressional Research Service, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44175.pdf

[10] Richard Carlin, DoD Energy and Power Roadmap (brief to Energy & Power Community of Interest), March 25, 2015, http://www.defenseinnovationmarketplace.mil/resources/EP_COI_NDIA_BriefingDistA20150325.pdf

[11] CSBA, Directed Energy Summit-Summary Report, July 28, 2015, 2015 Directed Energy Summit – Summary Report – Center … ; Boeing Press Release, Boeing CHAMP Missile Completes 1st Flight Test, September 22, 2011, http://boeing.mediaroom.com/2011-09-22-Boeing-CHAMP-Missile-Completes-1st-Flight-Test ; Boeing, CHAMP – Lights Out, October 22, 2012, http://www.boeing.com/features/2012/10/bds-champ-10-22-12.page ; George I. Seffers, CHAMP Prepares For Future Fights, February 1, 2016, http://www.afcea.org/content/?q=Article-champ-prepares-future-fights; Bud Cordova, AFRL division chief presents abilities of high-powered microwave weapons, September 16, 2016, http://www.wpafb.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/948603/afrl-division-chief-presents-abilities-of-high-powered-microwave-weapons

[12] Federation of American Scientists, BGM-109 Tomahawk, http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm

[13] F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Aeroweb, http://www.bga-aeroweb.com/Defense/F-18-Super-Hornet.html

[14] Ron O’Rourke, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, November 6, 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44175.pdf, p. 3

[15] Ron O’Rourke, Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, November 6, 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44175.pdf, p. 4

[16] Hunter Stires, CNO Announces the Return of Vertical Launch System At-Sea Reloading, The National Interest, July 5, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/exclusive-cno-announces-the-return-vertical-launch-system-21425 

[17] Rena Marie Pacella, NASA Engineers Propose Combining a Rail Gun and a Scramjet to Fire Spacecraft Into Orbit, Popular Science, December 17, 2010, http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-11/nasa-engineers-propose-combining-rail-gun-and-scramjet-fire-spacecraft-orbit

[18] Spencer Ackerman, Watch the Navy’s New Ship-Mounted Laser Cannon Kill a Drone, April 8, 2013, http://www.wired.com/2013/04/laser-warfare-system/

[19] Alfred T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, page 7

[20] Dwight Eisenhower, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953, PBS:  American Experience, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/eisenhower-inaugural53/

Featured Image: The U.S. Navy Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)

The Importance of Space in Maritime Security

Honorable Mention – CIMSEC High School Essay Contest

As long as man has walked the Earth and gazed into the stars, he’s asked “what’s out there what’s waiting for me?” Today, our country asks that very same question, although not for what we can find, but how we can use Space and its resources to advance our scientific and military might into, and hopefully beyond the 21st century.

GPS_Satellite_NASA_art-iifWith the dawn of rockets and the nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, Space would soon become a vital asset for the interests of both countries and other major players for the years to come (particularly China). With the sudden rise of China, and the reemergence of the Russia as a major military power, it is absolutely vital that the United States once again pursue Space for economic, political, and commercial purposes, as well as for strategic military purposes which will benefit not only the military, but the United States as a whole; and how our Navy can play a big role in helping us make this happen.

As of the time of this writing, the United States and other Western European Countries are currently embroiled in a geopolitical dispute with Russia over Ukraine and the rights of its territory such as Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. As a result of this, the United States and the European Union declared economic sanctions on Russia which are meant to cripple the Russian economy and force Russia out over its interference in Ukraine. In response to this, the Kremlin has threatened to stop shuttling Astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and cut off supplies to the ISS.  In 2007, the Chinese military carried out its first antisatellite missile test when it launched a ground based missile 500 miles to destroy an aging satellite of theirs.

Both of these events are very disturbing as they easily threaten the United States and its space capability to carry out intelligence gathering and reconnaissance missions in Space using the latest technology and satellites. If these satellites, whether civilian or military, ever happen to be threatened in a time of war, the results could be catastrophic. The Navy should invest in further developing laser weapons like the LaWS that are capable of punching holes through thick steel plates on ships as well as a countermeasure against any ballistic missile that may threaten our satellite capability in Space or onboard the ISS. Laser weapons are surprisingly very cheap and affordable. According to Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder in an interview for defense-aerospace.com, “with affordability a serious concern for our defense budgets, this will more effectively manage resources to ensure our sailors and marines are never in a fair fight.” The article goes on to claim that firing this type of weapon can cost less than $1 dollar per shot; a great bargain in a time that our military is starting to see a drawdown in military spending. Christopher Harrier, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War was quoted as saying that: “The existing naval weapons systems, small-caliber cannons, large-caliber naval guns, and missiles, are at or near the limits of their potential capability. Guns and missiles just aren’t going to get much more accurate or lethal while lasers have significant potential for increases in range, accuracy, lethality, reliability, and cost-effectiveness.”

It is clear that if the Navy wants to confront new 21st Century threats, it must research and develop new combat systems, whether it is by land, sea, air, or space.  The Russians and the Chinese are also looking into developing similar weapons systems, while also trying to implement a missile defense system capable of intercepting and eliminating enemy targets. With a resurgent Russia and emerging China, this has become a must for defense of our allies and overseas military installations all around the world. It has been stated that an enemy country wouldn’t necessarily have to launch a direct nuclear strike if it wanted to destroy the United States. Countries like China and Russia could simply detonate a nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere right over the Midwestern United States and knock out most, if not all, of the electrical power grids in the continental United States through an Electromagnetic Pulse Effect. An EMP would be devastating to the United States as it would cripple our infrastructure, down all of our technology, leave the US Government and military crippled and slow to react, and cause the global economy to collapse. It would be a scene right out of a post-apocalyptic film like The Postman or The Book of Eli. Not to mention the millions of casualties and deaths that would occur due to starvation or anarchy. It would truly be a shame and a complete lack of competence if our Government doesn’t have a contingency plan already in place for an event like this.

In order for this plan on space based missile defense to work however, it must learn from the mistakes made in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan famously proposed in 1983 his SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) or the “Star Wars Program”. As many people know, SDI was announced in 1983 by Ronald Reagan as a means of countering the Soviet threat with space based weaponry capable of shooting down any Soviet missile before it entered American airspace. Unfortunately, due to the slow technological development at the time of space based missile defense systems, as well as other factors including the Dissolution of the USSR, inefficiency, and overall lack of continued public support, SDI did not succeed in meeting its goals.

In comparison to the 1980’s-early 90’s, America does have the infrastructure in 2015 to support a new SDI type program. For starters, in 1983 something called: “private space companies” did not exist. With companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Sciences, and Blue Origin starting to appear and establish themselves as legitimate companies in the aerospace sector, there’s no reason why they couldn’t be expected to help the American military develop a space based missile defense system. Similar to how other Aerospace contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have helped the Air Force in its development of their new aircraft and weapons systems, a joint government/private program with the DoD and Navy providing the funding, and the private companies will handle the testing and development could be developed. That way there won’t be as large of an outcry by the public as there was with SDI in the 1980’s and the politicians/military leaders don’t have to worry so much about any failures and the potential political backlash with the program, as it will fall on the shoulders of the private contractors. Plus, this program will be more affordable now than it ever was in the 1980s.

SpaceX is currently developing the Falcon-9 space rocket with the intention of making it reusable and cheaper to launch into orbit. According to NASA, the average typical launch cost for the Space Shuttle Program was $450 million dollars. With the SpaceX designed Falcon-9 rocket, that cost is now about 50-56 million USD, an absolute bargain when compared to how much NASA’s launches cost. The biggest obstacle to this plan would not necessarily be the technical or financial challenges involved, but compliance with international law such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Article IV of the 1967 Space Treaty states: “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies shall also not be prohibited. “

The key words in this text being: “Nuclear or any kinds of weapons of mass destruction.” WMD’s are most often defined as being either: Biological, Chemical, Radiological, or Nuclear.  Since lasers do not fall into either of these specifically defined categories (as lasers are electromagnetic), this would not violate international law regarding space and weapons of mass destruction. And their primary purpose would be defensive in nature. The Navy could easily place these interceptors on ships or in bases around the world in order to be alerted by any of these threats, as well as satellites which can track and locate enemy ships and submarines before they attack.

It is obvious that space will play a critical role in the development of naval affairs and maritime security through the use of satellites and space based defense which will be used to further America’s Naval supremacy in both the Sea and Space throughout the rest of the 21st century and beyond. As we can see, the Navy will not just be limited to the sea but will have an increasingly expanded role as technology and space travel progresses.







About the Author 

Nolan McEleney was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1996 and is a diehard fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. His family moved to CT in 2005, before finally settling in MD in 2008. Nolan is currently a cadet officer in the Civil Air Patrol for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Composite Squadron where he is currently assigned as a flight commander. Nolan currently attends The Avalon School in Gaithersburg where he is the Washington house captain. In extracurriculars, he is heavily involved with the Civil Air Patrol. Nolan is also a part of his squadrons cyberpatriot team which deals with cybersecurity and other threats as part of a nationwide competition. He has also taken online courses with the Cisco Networking Academy and Hillsdale College. 

 In the future, Nolan would like to work with NASA, a private space company, or any science and tech company. Whether it be in a technical or non-technical role, he feel like a lot of these companies such as SpaceX are on the cusp of history with proposed missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. He would also like to be a part of and contribute to that in any way he can. Nolan currently intends on going to the University of Washington and participating in ROTC so that he can become an officer.  

Increasing Lethality in Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW)

Minor (and Less Minor) Course Corrections

Change in the force structure of any military service is a reality we should all expect and in fact insist upon; one may only hope the factors that drive these changes are planned and controlled, but the threat gets a vote, and the end result is never exactly as desired.  The reality in the Navy’s surface force is that we have delivered an extremely capable fleet of cruisers and destroyers, all of which met the threat for the time in which they were designed, and all of which share one distinct trait today:  they all need to realize an increase in their offensive lethality if we are going to win a SAG vs SAG War At Sea scenario.

In the CRUDES world, our longest range and more capable anti-surface weapon remains the Harpoon missile; aside from a few software upgrades, the surface-launched version is largely the same weapon I saw on my first ship when I reported aboard in 1986.  The five-inch gun battery has more reliable and effective ammunition – and nearly the same range and rate of fire as its predecessor 30 years ago.  The Standard Missile, even with its anti-surface capability, is almost wholly and properly dedicated to the IAMD fight. And in perhaps our most glaring deficiency, we have not yet answered the demand signal from the COCOM in the Pacific, our most challenging maritime environment, to deliver a longer range, surface ship maritime strike weapon.

Today’s threat includes everything from pirates lobbing RPGs to the traditional blue water threat from adversary frigates, cruisers, and destroyers.  During a decade of war in and about the Arabian Gulf we focused on fast attack craft (FAC) and fast inland attack craft (FIAC) swarms designed to limit the freedom of navigation in the littorals; while we have already turned our attention to the competing blue water navies of the world, we must ensure our own ships pack the punch necessary to defeat that modernized adversary in the future.

Returning to our Offensive-minded Roots

The confluence among concluding the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, rebalancing presence and control in the Asia-Pacific basin, and resizing the defense budget has culminated in a “Blue Water Renaissance” for the Surface Navy.  In many instances, the past is prologue for the challenges facing today’s (and tomorrow’s) fleet. Our leadership properly states in myriad forum, including testimony before congress, that Sea Power – specifically offensive capability and capacity – remains a critical strategic component in fulfilling rebalancing efforts and meeting international requirements.

120718-N-VY256-261To this extent, the Surface Force is positioned to serve as an enabling characteristic in virtually every scenario, yet we must become more lethal and more offensively postured – and deliver increased capacity and capability sooner rather than later.  No ship was ever designed with the thought that it would meet and defeat every threat in every scenario; I would submit that notion would be both fiscally and realistically impossible. There are several areas, however, in which the surface warfare community is engaged to increase its lethality, and to do so without having to rely on the presence of the CVN and its air wing; as clearly capable as the Carrier is, against the prolific threat today and tomorrow, the prudent warrior will plan on having to start and finish a maritime engagement without the CVN.

Increased lethality in our ships brings the idea of “sea control” back into the realm of our surface action groups – allowing flexibility in our operational plans and forcing  potential aggressors to pause, even when the CVN is days away. In light of the defense budget’s multiple competing requirements, programming the future Surface Force to maintain Blue Water primacy and offensive capability remains our most pressing challenge, but it is a challenge we are addressing on multiple fronts. As is fitting for multi-purpose ships like DDGs and CGs, this increased lethality will come in different mission areas and allow for greater capacity across the spectrum of operations.

Near to Far … Advanced Naval Surface Fires

From the perspective of Naval Surface Fires, N96 is currently spearheading a comprehensive re-fresh of major caliber gun requirements, aptly named “Advanced Naval Surface Fires”.  Already begun, this effort will re-evaluate the spectrum of requirements from close-in self-defense to offensive fires.  Advanced Naval Surface Fires will focus on increasing surface Navy offensive and defensive lethal capacity and decreasing cost per kill by broadening traditional gunfire requirements to include emerging technologies ranging from precision munitions to the Electro-Magnetic Railgun and laser weapons.

Over the next five years we will complete the fielding of the automated 25mm Mk38 gun system to all of our combatants and upgrade its EO/IR sensor for better threat identification and recognition.  The CIWS Block 1B upgrade continues apace, and by the end of FY15 every ship is scheduled to have this gun’s expanded defense against asymmetric threats such as small, fast surface craft, slow-flying aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. In the 5″ gun lane, we are fielding a new “MOF-N” (Multi-Option Fuse, Navy) ammunition that replaces six older ammunition types and has improved performance against shore and sea targets, while continuing to evaluate the performance of MFF (Multi-Function Fuse) versus FAC/FIAC threats.

But those are all already-existing, albeit significant investments – as part of the focus on increasing lethality, N96 is also investing in new industry initiatives to increase the capability of today’s 5″ gun – improving our surface fleet’s ability to provide precision, high rate fires at extended ranges. Increased lethality also extends beyond the CRUDES community – by the end of FY15, we will complete installation of the laser-guided Griffin missiles in the PC class, which recently completed a perfect 4-for-4 demonstration in theater, and we will soon follow with a new missile system in the LCS which will significantly improve our small vessel engagement capability for the fleet.

Although the STANDARD Missile-2 (SM-2) remains our primary anti-air warfare missile system on all US Navy destroyers and cruisers, and is deployed by eight international Navies, the surface community is sustaining our inventory and pacing the threat by exploring cost effective ways to leverage the existing inventory by integrating an active seeker/guidance section into the SM-2.  As we continue to investigate this path, we are encouraged by the notion we could provide the Warfighter with a more robust and cost effective area defense weapon.  An active seeker could enable OTH engagements and improve SM-2 performance against stream raids and in ECM environments, while also enhancing our ASuW surface targeting.


Longer term investments in directed energy – both in weaponized lasers and the electro-magnetic railgun – are expected to bring an offensive punch to several mission areas while also significantly reducing the cost curve of a surface engagement. Railgun will provide greatly enhanced range and accuracy against anticipated ASuW target sets in the Pacific Rim and Southwest Asia. Industry is already deep into prototype development of shipboard lasers – high energy, solid state weapons that will provide sustained counter UAV, counter boat swarm and greatly enhanced combat ID.  Both of these efforts continue at a pace commensurate with the developing technology; if you’re a SWO finishing your Department Head ride now, you can expect to see them reach culmination and being fielded at sea before your command tour.

Surface Ships and Maritime Strike

Ever since the demise of the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM), Navy has wrestled with the question of whether, and when, such a capability would again be necessary. What circumstances would dictate that our ships need to engage an enemy SAG at ranges greater than our current Harpoon missile?

Not a simple question, but perhaps there is a simple answer: our ships need to be able to engage that enemy SAG at ranges greater than they can engage us. Sea control really isn’t more complicated than that – possessing more lethality than the threat does, and being able to execute that lethality in a given scenario. Refer back to the earlier statement – we will not always operate with the CSG and its striking force in the Air Wing – and we owe it to our nation and our Sailors to be able to win that fight when it presents itself.

The Navy’s roadmap to fielding a surface launched maritime strike weapon (OASuW) includes competing a future solution that would follow the first increment of OASuW, the LRASM missile, which is an aviation-only weapon. In the interim, the surface community has invested significantly in the existing Tomahawk Block IV weapon system, including the All Up Round (AUR), to not only establish a recertification line and enable the weapon’s remaining fifteen-year service life, but also make the AUR relevant into and beyond the coming decade. The capabilities being built into the current Blk IV – including upgraded communications and electronics, with potential future inclusion of an advanced warhead and seeker – will bear some close similarity to those needed for the surface launched OASuW weapon. The Tomahawk missile, amongst others, will be well positioned to compete for that program.

Finally, since possessing this weapon will serve no purpose unless our ships can actually employ it with the confidence we should demand, we cannot forget the kill chain in the course of increasing lethality. Having myriad methods that rely on consistent communications or the presence of the air wing are not sufficient – we must develop an organic kill chain that enables a SAG to find/fix/target the enemy at ranges commensurate with the weapon system being employed. This is not an easy challenge to overcome, and its discussion is best reserved for another forum; suffice to say that solving this challenge is a primary focus in the surface community.

Another Planning Factor – Fiscal Constraints

Amidst all the intent and desire to increase lethality, and thereby enable sea control, we cannot ignore the fiscal reality that our nation and our military face. Sea Control is defined by offensive lethality; so how does a force with a declining resource base continue to meet the demands of forward presence and persistent readiness, and also not only maintain but increase its lethality?

The short answer is by making some difficult choices, and then maintaining the course to see initiatives survive from original design to actual fielding. No branch of our military, including the Navy and its surface community, can make that happen on its own. The first step, however, can be achieved thru the innovative application of developing technology as it enters the acquisition system. Toward that end, we partner with the many military industries to develop new systems, or refine existing ones, to address current and future requirements.

In this era of flat or declining defense budgets, we simply do not live in a fiscally unconstrained environment. New initiatives need to address capability gaps, and they need to be affordable.

Message to Industry: What would be more helpful than a $500M program designed to counter a $50K threat? A program that builds upon already existing technology, doesn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars of R&D, and can be fielded in an affordable and efficient manner.

Conclusion – Remember, Minor Course Corrections

Like most of the fleet, when I reported to the N96 staff I had never served in OPNAV in any capacity, much less in the role of a resource sponsor. I had little to no appreciation for the opportunities that would present to make a difference in the future of our surface navy. While I recognize that gratification in one’s efforts in the world of resourcing is measured in 5-year budget cycles, I am indeed gratified to know that the community’s focus and investment is in the right place. If we manage to make the minor course corrections described herein, instead of shifting our rudder 30 degrees right to left, we will most certainly realize the increased lethality we need in that future SAG vs SAG scenario.

Captain Charlie Williams is the Deputy for Weapons and Sensors, Surface Warfare Directorate (N96). He commanded USS FIREBOLT (PC 10), USS STETHEM (DDG 63) and Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (CDS-15). As the Commodore in CDS-15, he served as the GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group Sea Combat Commander and Strike Force ASW Commander, and subsequently served as the Seventh Fleet Chief of Staff.

For other material by OPNAV 96, Surface Warfare Division, staff:
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) – the Heart of Surface Warfare by CAPT Charlie Williams, USN
Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Naval Integrated Air/Missile Defense by CAPT Jim Kilby, USN
Operate Forward: LCS Brings It by RADM Thomas Rowden, USN


US Secretary of the Navy Talks LCS, Partnerships, and the Future of the USN

Last Friday the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus, participated in the latest Military Strategy Forum discussion organized by the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Ever vigilant, CIMSEC dispatched a fearless one-man delegation to the discussion. Below are some of the highlights of the event with the SECNAV.

With a few topics off the table, including the situation in Ukraine and the ongoing fiscal year 2015 budget negotiations, the central theme of the discussion revolved around the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its future. In contrast with the speech made by the Secretary of Defense on 24 February, the SECNAV presented a more optimistic view of the contested vessel design and its prospects. By 2016, four LCS are expected to be on extended deployment. The Secretary further argued that the LCS should continue to be built through the current five-year defense plan, and, once complete, that further decisions should be taken based on the ship’s record, taking in account the costs of replacing it. As the LCS is only now beginning operational tests, there is no reason why the next flight of the LCS should not be modified. The Secretary cited the example of the subsequent flights of the DDG 51 and the Virginia class attack subs, which differ greatly from the original design. However, if modifications ultimately prove inadequate, the LCS will have to be replaced.

The second topic of discussion centered on the future of the U.S. Navy’s ‘Rebalance to the Pacific.’ The branch plays a crucial role, as it can brings presence and capabilities to regions in a way that the Army or Air Force cannot without more permanent basing or training agreements. However, according to the SECNAV, in order to ensure presence the Navy needs four elements: People, platforms, power, and partnerships. All are important, but none more so than partnerships. The United States relies on information provided by its partners, and fused from a variety of sources. That requires constant communication, relationships, trust, and familiarity. It is therefore crucial that the United States should reassure its partners in the Asia-Pacific that its rebalancing towards the region is real. To this end, the share of the fleet in the Pacific will increase from 55% to 60% by the end of the decade, and the contingent of Marines in Darwin, Australia, will grow to 1000 over the course of this year. Significantly for those keeping an eye on Washington’s rebalancing to the Pacific, the SECNAV emphasized that their role will not be restricted to training with Australian forces, but will include greater engagement in that part of the world.

The third, and perhaps key, point of Friday’s event focused on the future of the U.S. Navy in general, along with the sustainability of its current size and operational capacity. Secretary Mabus is convinced that the Navy’s size will reach 300 ships by the end of the decade, and that once reached the number will be sustainable. He did, however, add that the era of unlimited budgets, common a decade ago, has come to an end. Despite emerging constraints, he believes a combination of measures can cut costs and keep a 300-ship Navy afloat in the long term. This includes relying on mature technology (and crucially, not forcing expensive immature tech on new ships), disciplining requirements to keep them somewhat constant, fixed-price contracts, greater transparency in procurement, and relying on stable and tested designs. Here, the decreasing prices of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers was cited as an example to emulate; as an increase in bids from two to three ships per year cut unit costs, without sacrificing quality. Other measures include increasing the share of biofuel used by Navy ships, for which the branch is cooperating with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. Here, the U.S. “fracking revolution” will likely not prove much help, as oil and gas are globally traded commodities. Every time the price of oil increases by a dollar, it ends up costing the Navy and the Marine Corps another 30 million. The Navy hopes that at least half of all fuel used will be biofuel by 2020. Four biofuel companies are set to provide 163 million gallons, priced at 4 dollars a gallon. Although not expanded upon at the event, this initiative forms part of the “Farm to Fleet” program unveiled in December 2013. Although designed to contribute to America’s energy security, provide jobs to rural communities, and ensure a supply of low-cost fuel for the Navy, the program has already proven controversial due to its mounting costs, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cost-cutting measures will become increasingly important as the size of the fleet increases. A new amphibious group is set to be ready in the Pacific by 2018, providing Marines – not only those in Darwin, but all over the Pacific – with a spectrum of new options, including an improved resupply capability.

The event concluded with a few interesting tidbits, including on the need for a national debate on the upcoming – and expensive – Trident nuclear missile modernization; the deployment of laser weapons (coming into use this year); and, the F-35C (the SECNAV sees no problem with it being delayed, as the Navy was always the last in priority and the Initial Operating Capability has not changed).

Miha Hribernik is an Asia-Pacific security analyst and researcher, currently working with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington, DC. He is also an Associate of the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels. Miha’s research mainly focuses on the foreign and security policy of Japan, and maritime security in East Asia – with an emphasis on counter-piracy information sharing networks such as ReCAAP.