Senate Zaps Navy’s Superlaser, Railgun

The Senate just drove a stake into the Navy’s high-tech heart. The directed energy and electromagnetic weapons intended to protect the surface ships of the future? Terminated.

The Free Electron Laser and the Electromagnetic Railgun are experimental weapons that the Navy hope will one day burn missiles careening toward their ships out of the sky and fire bullets at hypersonic speeds at targets thousands of miles away. Neither will be ready until at least the 2020s, the Navy estimates. But the Senate Armed Services Committee has a better delivery date in mind: never.

The committee approved its version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill on Friday, priced to move at $664.5 billion, some $6.4 billion less than what the Obama administration wanted. The bill “terminates” the Free Electron Laser and the railgun, a summary released by the committee gleefully reports.

“The determination was that the Free Electron Laser has the highest technical risk in terms of being ultimately able to field on a ship, so we thought the Navy could better concentrate on other laser programs,” explains Rick DeBobes, the chief of staff for the committee. “With the Electromagnetic Railgun, the committee felt the technical challenges to developing and fielding the weapon would be daunting, particularly [related to] the power required and the barrel of the gun having limited life.”

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