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[] NYT 27-06-01: Pentagon Investing In Lasers And Other Gizmos -

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New York Times
June 27, 2001

Pentagon Investing In Lasers And Other Gizmos

By Reuters

WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department said on Tuesday it was pouring billions of 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 wizardry -- along with unmanned systems for land, air, space, sea and underwater uses -- was to counter the spread of ``asymmetric'' threats to U.S. forces over the past decade, Pentagon officials told Congress.

Among perceived unconventional threats, 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.''

``We must be conscious of these threats as we foster technology breakthroughs ... to cope with that environment,''

Edward Aldridge, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, told the House Armed Services Research and Development Subcommittee.

He did not spell out precisely how many billions would go to defense research and development in President Bush's 2002 budget blueprint, but under a provisional budget plan, the sum was to have risen 8.1 percent to $48.6 billion.

The Defense Department employs 28,500 scientists and engineers in its 84 laboratories and research and development centers -- down 42 percent from 43,800 at the end of 1990, said Aldridge, the department's under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Fruits Of Research

The subcommittee hearing featured presentations by the armed services and defense agencies of the fruits of their research. They included a top-hat-sized, sensor-equipped hovering vehicle designed to replace human scouts searching for enemy troops. Dubbed ``Private Jones,'' the army green ``organic air vehicle'' was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Aldridge divided U.S. defense 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 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 space surveillance and protection of U.S. assets in space.

Also needed are network systems that communicate among themselves and operationally responsive and reliable networks and tools for boiling down vast amounts of information.

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

Aldridge said the administration was gearing up for technology to intercept ballistic missiles in all stages of their flight. This implies a layered anti-missile defense, possibly including space-based, sea-based and air-based interceptors in addition to the ground-based system envisaged under former President Bill Clinton.

``Direct-energy'' weapons like lasers also had the potential to shoot down ballistic missiles as they were lifting off as well as to defeat high-speed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, Aldridge told the panel.

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