Navy Wish List: Ray Guns, Cyber “Domination”

The Navy has just released a new strategic plan for science and technology — its first in years.   At the top of the futuristic wish list: ray guns and cyber space "domination."

The document — produced by the Office of Naval Research and signed the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for R&D, and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps — is meant to provide "the vision and key objectives for the essential
science and technology efforts that will enable the continued supremacy of U.S. Naval forces in the 21st century."  The plan outlines 13 broad goals, and hundreds of breakthroughs and improvements, that the service wants to pursue in the years ahead.

The aims are ambitious, to say the least: alternative energy, "electronic camouflage," "enhancement of physical and cognitive performance," "warfighter exoskeleton technology," "non-lethal technologies to stop small vehicles and large ships" — as well as "deny[ing] adversaries the ability to hide within the civilian population" and hitting targets "250 miles [away] from safe offshore locations."

The plan also puts a major emphasis on "strik[ing]… at a speed and rate that defeats any adversary’s ability to conduct effective operations against us despite his use of mobility and deception to neutralize our efforts."  That’s where the ray guns come in.  Lasers and other "directed energy" weapons, operating at the "speed of light," may be the only weapons fast enough to smack these elusive targets.   And when an enemy attacks with something like a cruise missile, a directed energy defense would be awfully handy to have around.

The Navy wants to make sure it can trade bits and bytes, unmolested, too.  Network-centric operations have become key to the American vision of fighting.   That’s what enables small units, scattered across the seas, to become "more autonomous, more lethal… highly adaptable to their environment, quick to respond to uncertainty, and able to deliver scaleable effects to whatever target they may need to engage."  To pull all that off — and to "prevent disruption-causing degradation to… commanders’ decision making" — the Navy can’t just protect against network attacks.   According to the plan, the service has to have "domination of the electromagnetic spectrum and cyber space."  It’s one of a number of ways the Navy plans on "hedg[ing] against the uncertainty of warfare." (3.26.2007, Noah Shachtman)


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