Department of Defense Initiatives on High Energy Lasers Have Been Responsive to Congressional Direction

GAO-05-545R: Published: May 18, 2005. Publicly Released: May 18, 2005.

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Paul L. Francis
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Congress directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to prepare a master plan to develop laser technologies for potential weapons applications in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000. In response to this legislation, the High Energy Laser (HEL) Executive Review Panel was formed and issued the HEL Master Plan on March 24, 2000. This plan recommended that DOD implement a new management structure for HEL technologies and increase the funding allocated to HELs to achieve a better balance between large demonstration programs and the enabling science and technology projects. Subsequently, in the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2001, Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to implement the management and organizational structure specified in the Master Plan. Congress asked us to review the extent to which DOD has implemented the recommendations of the HEL Master Plan, by assessing (1) whether DOD has achieved more balance between large demonstration projects and the enabling science and technology base projects; (2) whether the DOD funding process focuses on the most critical HEL issues; and (3) what impact the new management structure has had on the coordination and redundancy of HEL technology efforts DOD-wide.

We found that the Department of Defense has, in large part, implemented the recommendations of the High Energy Laser Master Plan and has made changes to increase the focus on critical high energy laser issues. Since the High Energy Laser Master Plan and the 2001 Defense Authorization Act, the overall investment in high energy laser efforts has increased and the science and technology base has grown as a proportion of total investment. The Joint Technology Office has a process for establishing priorities that is clearly defined, objective, and based on input from experts in the high energy laser field. The services and agencies fund their high energy laser projects according to their mission requirements. By implementing the management structure and recommendations of the Master Plan, the Department of Defense has increased collaboration within the high energy laser community and provided more opportunities for coordination of high energy laser efforts.

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