Air Force Partners with University to Establish Directed Energy Center

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The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate is partnering with the University of New Mexico (UNM) to establish a center for directed energy (DE) studies, a congressionally funded endeavor. The Directed Energy Center will be based at UNM and jointly managed by UNM’s School of Engineering and UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM).

Directed energy technologies in development at AFRL include lasers and high-power electromagnetics directed toward a target, with applications in a variety of areas vital to national security.
Ph.D. student Khandakar Nusrat Islam (left), and Master of Science degree graduate, Braulio Martinez (right) at work in the UNM Pulsed Power, Beams and Microwaves Laboratory. Courtesy of UNM.
Ph.D. student Khandakar Nusrat Islam (left), and Master of Science degree graduate Braulio Martinez at work in the UNM Pulsed Power, Beams and Microwaves Laboratory. The AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate and UNM will establish a center for DE studies in Albuquerque, N.M. Courtesy of UNM.

“One of the important aspects of using DE weapons systems is that they are much less costly than traditional kinetic systems and result in less collateral damage,” said Kelly Hammet, director of the AFRL Directed Energy Directorate. “We lead the world in these systems, but developing a robust pipeline of experts in the field is critical to maintaining our advantage.”

Senior researchers, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students will advance the modeling, design, and fabrication of fiber lasers and amplifiers to more than 1 kW for conventional designs and near-kilowatt for radiation-balanced and unconventional wavelengths. The center will create a hub of expertise in high-power fiber laser research, and the fiber draw tower at the center will create the highest-quality fibers for high-power laser operation at various wavelengths.

Edl Schamiloglu, distinguished professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at UNM, will lead the center. Ganesh Balakrishnan, professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, will serve as associate director.

“The Directed Energy Center will make UNM one of only a handful of universities in the country with a center dedicated to that type of research and the only one that has expertise in both lasers and microwaves,” Balakrishnan said. “Having the partnership of AFRL scientists and engineers will mean our students and faculty will have access to the highest level of expertise and world-class facilities.”

Arash Mafi, professor of physics at UNM and director of the Center for High Technology Materials at the time the proposal was submitted, is principal investigator, and Schamiloglu and Balakrishnan are co-principal investigators on the recent $2.4 million, four-year cooperative agreement through AFRL called “Directed Energy Center for Lasers and Microwaves.”

The center will eventually be located in a new facility, currently in the planning stages, in UNM’s south campus S&T Park, which is expected to be operational by 2025.

Published: November 2021
directed energy
Directed energy refers to a type of energy that is emitted and transferred in a controlled direction. The term is often associated with military and technological applications where energy, typically in the form of electromagnetic radiation, is focused and directed toward a specific target. Directed energy systems can take various forms, including lasers and high-power microwaves. The key characteristic is the intentional concentration of energy to achieve a desired effect on a target. In...
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