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PostPosted: 06/26/01 07:26:00 AM 
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Tuesday June 26 9:45 AM ET
Pentagon Says Betting on Lasers, Other New Gizmos
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Reuters Photo


By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Defense Department said on Tuesday it was pouring research dollars into high-energy lasers, microwave systems and a host of other advanced gizmos designed to win 21st-century wars more quickly and decisively than ever.

Development of such things as unmanned systems for land, air, space, sea and underwater was to counter the spread of ''asymmetric'' threats to U.S. forces in the past decade, Pentagon (news - web sites) officials told Congress.

Among these they cited ballistic missiles, possibly tipped with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons; keyboard-launched ''information operations,'' for instance against U.S. military satellites, and ``terrorism.''

``Future adversaries will increasingly rely on unconventional strategies and tactics to offset the superiority of U.S. forces,'' Edward Aldridge, the Pentagon's new chief weapons buyer, said in testimony prepared for the House Armed Services Research and Development Subcommittee. ``We must be conscious of these threats as we foster technology breakthroughs ... to cope with that environment.''

Aldridge did not spell out precisely how much was being spent in his joint statement with Delores Etter, deputy director of defense research and engineering. But they said basic defense science and technology research accounts for about 40 percent of federal support for all engineering research in universities.

THREE CATEGORIES OF U.S. NEEDS

All told, the Defense Department employs 28,500 scientists and engineers in its 84 labs and research and development centers, down 42 percent from 43,800 at the end of 1990, they said.

Aldridge divided U.S. needs into three categories: ``hard problems,'' or significant technical challenges that, if solved, would check a significant threat; ``revolutionary war-fighting concepts,'' and militarily significant research areas.

``Hard problems'' include developing a remote capability to detect and identify potentially toxic chemical and biological agents and to forecast their dispersion through a battlefield. Another such challenge is coming up with munitions capable of knocking out deeply buried targets.

For ``revolutionary war-fighting concepts,'' new technologies are being worked on for ``fuller dominance of space.'' Key areas include affordable space transportation including advanced propulsion and long-lasting power systems; sensing technologies for enhanced space surveillance, and protection of U.S. assets in space.

Also needed are network systems that communicate seamlessly among themselves, operationally responsive and reliable networks and tools for boiling down vast amounts of information and helping decision makers, the officials said.

In militarily significant research, the third category, a priority is the ``generation, storage, use and projection of electrical and other forms of power throughout the battle-space,'' Aldridge and Etter said.

He said ``directed-energy'' weapons -- lasers and high-powered microwave systems -- had the potential to shoot down ballistic missiles as they were lifting off, to defeat high-speed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles and to zero in on targets in urban centers without harming civilians.

Breakthroughs were needed in ``advanced power,'' including new battery systems and fuel cells, to enhance the U.S. capability to focus power and energy in a way that could be supported logistically, added Aldridge, the department's third-ranking civilian as under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

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