DOD's Space-Based Laser Program--Potential, Progress, and Problems

C-MASAD-82-10: Published: Feb 26, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 1982.

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The United States is pursuing directed-energy weapon technologies involving devices for generating and controlling laser, particle, and microwave beams which may revolutionize military strategy, tactics, and doctrine. Laser-weapon technology is the best understood and most mature of the three types of directed-energy weapon technologies. The Department of Defense (DOD) has been developing technology to demonstrate the feasibility of high-energy, laser-weapon systems for various tactical and strategic missions. One widely discussed laser-weapon concept involves a constellation of laser-weapon platforms in space which has the potential to provide a credible air and ballistic missile defense system for the United States. Due to recent interest by Congress and DOD, GAO reviewed the existing Space-Based Laser (SBL) program and assessed program progress, potential, and current management structure.

The GAO review highlighted the following situations in the existing program management structure: (1) the present program is a funding-limited approach to developing the technology for SBL's, (2) future prospects to augment the present program above that recommended by the Defense Science Board appear bleak, and (3) funding limitations have caused performance reductions and schedule slippages in the program. GAO stated that, with such long-range military potential, it is important that the SBL program be a well structured, funded, and managed effort from its outset. Based on its findings, GAO questioned whether such a program currently exists.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation has been considered and discussed extensively during the fiscal year 1983 authorization and appropriations process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should: (1) establish a DOD Space-Based Laser (SBL) program plan containing clear and specific milestones and objectives which recognize the relative priority of SBL's within DOD; (2) commit the necessary funds to meet these objectives and to maintain stability of the program selected; and (3) establish a management structure to accomplish program objectives efficiently.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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