The Marines want to move toward laser weaponry as soon as possible, but current technologies aren’t there yet. The comments came as part of a larger discussion that was hosted by military publication National Defense Magazine earlier this week.
According to Marine Corps Combat Development Command head Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, the Marine Corps would first start with putting the system on its KC-130 tanker planes. Walsh says the plane is a better fit to start due to its size, weight, and power restrictions, and due to the space needed for current laser weapons.
It wouldn’t stop there, though. The service also wants to put directed-energy weapons on just about anything it has in its arsenal, including F-35 fighter jets, Cobras, and other attack vehicles and planes. Before that, there is a lot of work to do, mainly because current laser weapon technology is just too unwieldy, and paraphrasing Walsh’s comments, an optimal system is a long way off.
So why is the Marine Corps so hot on laser weapons? Simply put, it’s all about cost savings. Missiles carried by these fighter jets can cost upward of $300,000 — and once they’re fired at a target there’s no reuse. While laser weapons may have a higher cost of manufacture, the fact that they are reusable leads to huge cost savings down the road.
For Washington, D.C. bureaucrats who are interested in cutting government costs — especially the huge defense budget — this seems like a simple way to do it. At this point, a lot of work remains to miniaturize these systems down to a size that works on planes other than the massive KC-130 though, Walsh admits.
The Marines aren’t the only division of the military to look toward laser weaponry: over the past few years both the Air Force and Navy too have begun work on similar systems. But regardless of the service, it doesn’t look like field weaponry will be ready until 2020, at the earliest.