Monday, June 20, 2011

Railgun, Laser Weapon Lose Senate Funding, Face Uncertain Future

The future is bleak for Navy's rail gun and laser weapons as Senate committee votes to cut funding.

Fox News - The Navy's most futuristic weapons will remain more fi than sci.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday voted to eliminate funding to two of the Navy’s still-in-development guns: the free electron laser, essentially a super-powered death ray, and the railgun, which shoots bullets powered not by explosions but by energy.

The Navy had planned to incorporate these sci-fi weapons in a revamped fleet of the future, and asked for $60 million to continue research and development. Those plans may have to change, following the tersely worded cuts -- unveiled on page 21 of a lengthy press release outlining the Senate's completion of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.

"'[The Act] directs the Navy to develop a broader affordable strategy on laser systems and terminates the Navy’s free electron laser due to concerns over operational technical challenges. In addition, [it] terminates the Navy’s high-risk Electromagnetic Rail Gun," the release reads.

Neither the Navy's Office of Naval Research, which has been actively developing the two technologies for several years, nor senior Navy officials were willing to comment on the news, pending the release of the full bill later this week.

The cuts come on the heels of major successes by both weapons: In February the free-electron laser set a new power record, bringing it closer to the goal of megawatt-class power. In December, the railgun produced a walloping 33-megajoule blast, three times the power previously achieved.      More