Corps Working to Field Variety of Directed-Energy Defenses, Says Chief of MCWL Rapid Capabilities Office
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps is working to prototype and field a variety of directed-energy systems to give its operating forces defenses against aerial drones and other threats. But the Corps also is developing systems to control hostile crowds and counter low-level terrorist attacks with nonkinetic tools, a senior Marine said Feb. 20.
“The Marine Corps has a different mission than other services. We are a swing force” and must be able to operate in “gray areas” with capabilities to function across the range of conflicts — from protecting U.S. embassies to all-out war, said Col. Kevin Murray, director of science and technology and head of the Rapid Capabilities Office at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL).
“While we traditionally invest in kinetic air defenses, we see directed-energy as an alternative,” Murray told the Booz/Allen/Hamilton annual directed energy summit at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
Directed-energy weapons can include the high-energy lasers that all the services are developing, but also microwave systems that can defend against “not just individual systems, but think about swarms,” he said.
Where lasers depend on narrowly focused beams of energy, a microwave system can emit a wider band of energy that could disable multiple UAVs, swarms of small attack boats or ground vehicles, he said.
With their mission as an expeditionary force, the Marines must stress reduction in the size and weight of those directed-energy systems, which includes smaller means to produce the considerable electrical energy such systems can require, he said.
And with the potential of a conflict against a peer competitor with high-tech sensor systems, the Marines also must find ways to minimize the electro-magnetic and heat signatures from their deployed units, Murray added.
As a small service with fewer resources, the Marines seek to leverage the development work of the other services, he said, citing their effort to rapidly prototype and field a 2-kilowatt laser weapon system, adopted from an Army program, as a possible anti-UAS device.
That could be one of the several approaches the Corps is taking as part of its ground-based air defense — GBAD — family of systems, he said.
Directed-energy weapons also can help reduce the cost of defending against UAVs and other smaller threats, Murray said. “We may have over-invested in capabilities at the high end and underinvested in low-cost systems.”
“We can’t afford a zillion missiles to go after swarms of UAVS.”
And, as executive agent of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, the Marines also are promoting directed-energy systems as means to counter hostile crowds and to defend embassies or overseas bases without resorting to the use of bullets, he said.
Those systems include millimeter wave devices that can inflict unbearable heat sensation on people without burning their skin, or high-energy beams that can pinpoint a single person who might be agitating a crowd into violent action, Murray explained.
High-energy microwave systems also can disable a vehicle that could be trying to crash through a base entrance or stop a small motorboat that poses a threat to a ship at sea.
Those kinds of nonlethal systems could be useful in a “gray zone” situation where use of kinetic force is undesirable, Murray said.
The goal is to give Marine or maritime component commanders “a wide range of tools,” he said.