September 11, 2023

Panel Discussion on Directed Energy at SPIE DCS: Current Status and Future Prospects

Leading experts from the Department of Defense (DoD), prominent research institutions, and professionals in the industry gathered this May at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing (DCS) conference for a compelling panel discussion focused on advancing our nation's directed energy capabilities. Leonardo Electronics US Vice President of Strategy and Business Development, Robert Walker, organized and moderated the panel, which included the following key voices: 

  • Sandra Biedron: Executive Director, Directed Energy Professional Society
  • Martin Richardson: Founding Director of the Center for Directed Energy, Professor, Univ. of Central Florida
  • Andrew Held: VP of Coherent Aerospace and Defense, Defense Solutions
  • Christopher Marshall: Deputy Program Director for DoD Technology Programs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • John Lund: Principal Research Engineer, Univ. of Alabama Huntsville, US Army RCCTO, Directed Energy Program Office

Like other major players in the industry, Leonardo has been a driving force in the progress of directed energy technologies, having led several panel discussions on the topic over the years. Through these discussions, the issue of industry readiness has focused on several critical areas:  

Size, Weight, and Power

Increasing the output power of a high-energy laser (HEL) system was a significant topic of discussion. The High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative, or HELSI, has made remarkable strides in enhancing the power capabilities of high-energy lasers. With its commitment to innovation, HELSI has successfully achieved targets of hundreds of kW-class laser capabilities and is now setting its sights on even higher kW-class lasers. Increasing the available laser power directly leads to less time to impact a target and more available platforms and applications for directed energy laser weapons.

Additionally, field deployment has been demonstrated with the Navy’s HELIOS program and the US Army HEL Stryker program using a 50-kW laser and the lower-powered palletized high energy laser (PHEL). These programs and HELSI will continue to be the major thrust for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to fully employ these technologies.

The latest efforts involving directed energy lasers focus on energy delivery enhancement, thermal management, and power management schemes for maximum efficiency gains. These strategies are seen as keys to increasing the deployability of these weapons.

Directed Energy Supply Chain

Industry supply chains must be prepared to effectively handle and accommodate the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) demand as it eventually scales up. Through collaborations with U.S. DoD primes and government laboratories, Leonardo Electronics US has proven its capability and invested in the capacity and manufacturing processes to meet performance and volume demands.

Directed energy readiness is primarily a matter of timing, with the question of "when" being central to the discussion.  As discussed in the panel, much effort is currently being dedicated to testing at the system level.  The industry-focused panel members expressed a potential uncertainty in the government’s schedule for transitioning from prototypes to volume production demand.  Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time before these factors align and directed energy technology reaches its full potential. 


The successful flight test campaign recently completed by the Air Force Research Laboratory is evidence of the continued progress of testing in directed energy. Such milestones pave the way for deployment and are an important precursor to increased demand.

Testing standards are an important next step. While many of the components for directed energy laser systems already meet military standards, there is currently a lack of shared standardization at the system level for targets, ranges, locations, platforms, and environmental conditions.

To address this need, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense requested the Modular Open System Approach (MOSA), which has emerged as an integrated business and technical strategy to significantly advance testing standards for directed energy. MOSA allows components and systems of the weapon to be standardized, allowing for both incremental upgrades and reduced cost/development time.

It was an honor to moderate and participate in the panel alongside fellow industry experts who constantly strive for innovation and technological advancement in directed energy and beyond.” – Robert Walker.

Many thanks to SPIE and fellow panelists for discussing the barriers and potential of scaling directed energy programs to support the warfighter.

Join us at the upcoming SPIE Photonics Summit in Washington D.C. on
September 27, 2023, which will feature important government officials discussing the legislation and funding involved in the optics and photonics industry.