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Free-Electron Laser (FEL)

Cruise missiles with increasingly sophisticated capability represent a very significant threat to present and future US Naval operations. This threat is compounded by the post-Cold War mission shift of Naval operations from "blue water" to a littoral environment. Additionally, there are other less demanding threats that could be countered by a weapon system that features variable lethality. A high energy laser (HEL) weapon system is an excellent candidate to fulfill this diverse role.

In 1997 the Navy distanced itself from supporting the free-electron laser as a tool that could shoot down enemy missiles. Experiments in 1997 were very sketchy. With the Navy expressing doubts, it was impossible to justify a claim on millions of federal dollars to step up development.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility delivered first light from their Free-Electron Laser (FEL) on June 17, 1998. Only 2 years after ground was broken for the FEL, infrared light of more than 150 watts (150,000 times more powerful than that of a supermarket scanner or CD player) was delivered -- fifteen times the power of existing free-electron lasers. On 15 July 1999, the FEL exceeded its design goal of 1,000 watts (a million times more powerful than the laser in a supermarket scanner or CD player) by producing 1,720 watts of infrared light.

With the achievement of 1.7 kW CW IR operation at the US Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, VA, and a major upgrade underway to a 10-kW class device, free-electron lasers (FEL) must now be considered a serious option for military directed energy weapon (DEW) applications.

A workshop was held in Newport News, VA on June 5 and 6, 2001. The purpose of this workshop, entitled "Free-Electron Laser Development for Naval Applications" was threefold, namely: 1) in the light of recent FEL success, to revisit and update the MW-class FEL weapon system concept definition, issues, and development recommendations (a prior workshop on this subject was held in 1996); 2) to develop the equivalent information for a 100 kW-class and lower power FEL DEW systems that addresses some of the alternate threats; and 3) to provide a database that will enable the JTO to make informed decisions on the development of an FEL weapon system. The workshop will be unclassified. In addition to the workshop agenda and proposed working groups, a partial list of issues can be found in the background information.



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