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  • Senate Committee Slashes FEL
Jun 2011
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2011 — The US Senate Committee on Armed Services voted June 17 to eliminate funding for the Navy’s free-electron laser (FEL) — a weapon system that was to protect US ships from surface and air missiles with high-energy electron-generated laser beams.

As part of the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2012, the committee unanimously approved $664.5 billion for the defense budget (some $6.4 billion less than the Obama administration wanted), but that did not include the FEL program, which began in 2010. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

In terminating the FEL funding, the committee said it had concerns over the operational technical challenges of the laser and directed the Navy to develop a broader affordable strategy on laser systems. The committee also terminated the Navy's electromagnetic rail gun.

“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,” Rick DeBobes, the chief of staff of the committee, told reporters at a press conference.

The cut comes on the heels of a recent milestone — the FEL set a power record in February, bringing it closer to the goal of megawatt-class power. (See: Supercharged FEL Blasts Through Steel

The Navy recently awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $163 million to take the technology and package it as a weapons system, one that the Navy said it would use for not only defense, but also for on-ship communications.

Elizabeth Merida, a Boeing spokeswoman, said it was too early to determine whether that contract would be canceled.

“The Fiscal Year 2012 defense budget is a work in progress, so it is still too early to conclude what it ultimately will mean for Boeing and our customers,” Merida told “We will continue to work with the Navy to evaluate the draft defense budget and its potential impact.”

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