Tuesday, 01 May 2012 12:19
May 1, 2012
U.S. lawmakers are continuing to lobby for funds to support a research initiative aimed at developing a laser system capable of stopping ballistic missiles.
Wired reports that House Republicans are pushing forward to secure financing for the engineering research and development campaign, even as military experts have expressed doubts over the necessity of the work. The Department of Defense has funded the study in the past, but amid far-reaching budget cutting in Washington, the program was scrapped.
Scientists had endeavored to equip a 747 with a powerful laser system that could knock ballistic threats out of the sky, but the Missile Defense Agency officially announced in February that it would abandon the study, citing scientists' failure in trials to ever shoot a missile. However, lawmakers are loath to abandon the military research project, as the Pentagon has already invested billions of dollars in it over the past 16 years.
The House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces panel asked the Missile Defense Agency to calculate how much money it would need to support the "costs involved with returning the Airborne Laser aircraft to an operational readiness status," according to the news provider. More specifically, the subcommittee members said they are concerned about a potential threat from North Korea.
Critics, however, asserted that the Asian nation's missile and military weapons programs have suffered a number of setbacks over the past few years. Just last month, the nation's test of a new ballistic technology failed and crashed in the Sea of South Korea, serving as an embarrassment, Reuters reports.
Nonetheless, the House subcommittee hopes to secure approximately $75 million to finance the laser defense program. Officials, who are preparing the Pentagon's next year fiscal budget, said that maintaining the program would act as a hedge in case North Korea successfully produces a workable ballistics technology in the future.
The Airborne Laser research program was plagued by problems throughout its history, Popular Science reports. Some lawmakers cited the initiative as an example of the Pentagon's failure to effectively oversee its weapons research programs, as it was routinely behind schedule and over budget.
During testing of the laser technology in 2010, scientists failed to demonstrate that the defense system was effective at knocking out ballistic technologies. What's more, it cost the federal government more than $100,000 per hour to operate, even though it was producing such middling results. The string of failed tests prompted the Missile Defense Agency to cut funding to the program, particularly as it faced mounting pressure to trim its bloated budget.
The directive from the House subcommittee, however, has ignited the interest of scientists and lawmakers alike. A number of public officials have decried the decision to earmark financing for the continued operation of the laser defense research. Still, backers argued that although the country's latest missile launches were unsuccessful, North Korea continues to pose an existential threat to the West.
The federal government has already spent more than roughly $274 billion on anti-missile technologies, according to some estimates, and the decision to push forward with the program has prompted a fierce debate as to whether such funding could be better spent in more promising defense areas. Opponents asserted that even though the government has heavily invested in such engineering research and development initiatives, they have largely failed to produce actionable results.
The House panel noted the $75 million would help "preserve the skilled workforce that was involved in the Airborne Laser Test Bed program and to accelerate experimentation with next generation directed energy system development," a move that could guarantee the program's future, experts said.