Last month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on three advanced technologies under development by the U.S. Navy for its surface ships: Solid state lasers (SSL), the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the hypervelocity projectile (HVP). The SSL fires a high-energy beam for short-range defense (one to five miles) against small boats, drones, aircraft, and incoming missiles. The EMRGuses electromagnets to “push” a solid, guidable projectile at over Mach 7 to ranges over 100 nautical miles (nm).The HVP is the round designed for the EMRG, but that can also be fired from existing naval cannons using traditional gunpowder propellant. Shot from a conventional naval gun, the HVP’s range is almost 50 nm—over twice the effective range of current naval artillery, and with substantially greater accuracy.

CRS assesses that any one of these technologies would be a “game changer” if successfully fielded, and that if two or all three make it to the fleet it would be a “revolutionary” development in shipboard warfare. The SSL was intended as a supplement and possible replacement for other shipboard short-range defense systems against incoming missiles or aircraft. The EMRG and HVP, though, were conceived as offensive weapons against other ships or targets on shore in place of expensive missiles and conventional naval cannon. But what makes these technologies revolutionary is their defensive impact and potential to give the U.S. Navy a means to control (i.e. limit) conflict escalation against a peer adversary.

CRS paints a clear picture of the Navy’s current limitations:

[O]bservers are concerned about the survivability of Navy surface ships in potential combat situations against adversaries, such as China, that are armed with advanced ASCMs [anti-ship cruise missiles] and with ASBMs [anti-ship ballistic missiles]…