New Report Outlines Current Status of Directed Energy Weapons Supply Chain

The U.S. Army’s Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) Demonstrator laser weapon system. (Image: Lockheed Martin.)

Directed energy weapons (DEWs), including high energy lasers (HELs) and high-power microwaves (HPMs), have emerged as potentially transformative weapons on the modern battlefield.

Recent advancements have made DEWs more capable than ever, with many systems possessing the power and range necessary to engage a wide variety of threats, more affordably than current systems. In a 64-page report, National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) affiliate the Emerging Technologies Institute, assess the current state of high energy laser and high-powered microwave weapon system supply chains in an effort to provide actionable policy recommendations for their development and to make the supply chain more resilient.

Recent conflicts in the Middle East and Europe have highlighted the importance of munitions capacity as well as the need to both efficiently and effectively counter different kinetic threats. The ability of some DEW systems to engage many targets at once with an “unlimited” magazine could yield enormous economic and tactical benefits.

However, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has often wavered in its commitment to fielding DEWs at scale. As such, current DEW supply chains, including critical raw materials, the manufacturing base and workforce, and testing infrastructure are incapable of supporting DEW deployment at scale. The current DEW supply chains are only able to produce small quantities of systems with long lead times.

The most important step DoD can take to secure directed energy weapon supply chains for the future is to provide a consistent demand signal to industry and clearly articulate its strategic goals for DEWs, according to the report. The lack of consistent demand signal was raised many times by industry leaders as negatively impacting all levels of the supply chain. Existing DEW supply chains can only produce small numbers of systems with long lead times.

DEW supply chains also have several vulnerabilities when it comes to critical raw materials and goods, notably the supply of germanium, gallium, and Rare Earth Elements (REE), all of which are largely dominated by China. In order to address these vulnerabilities, gallium should be added to the national defense stockpile, steps should be taken to develop domestic gallium nitride (GaN) production capabilities, and DoD should invest in synthetic alternatives to the most vulnerable DEW materials.

Check out all of the key findings in the link to the full report below.