Directed-energy (DE) weapons, including high-energy lasers (HEL), high-power microwaves (HPM) and related radiofrequency technologies, offer the prospect of cost-effective precision attack or enhanced point defense and can provide warfighters with flexible nonkinetic employment options.
DE weapons have finally demonstrated sufficient technical maturity that they may be integrated into naval, air and ground force structure for various mission applications within the next decade. While more modest in power and capability than previous large-scale DE programs, modern HEL and HPM weapons can help defend ships and bases from some forms of attack; enhance the performance of existing combat identification, selfprotection and other systems; and provide novel counterelectronic attack options.
Harvest the low-hanging fruit. DOD has begun to integrate some directed-energy technologies but has not yet fully capitalized on successfully demonstrated high-power radio-frequency weapon developments. At the same time, key solid-state and combined-beam fiber HEL programs will likely be available to transition to the warfighter within the next decade.
The promise of DE weapons is straightforward. In general, they may:
• Enable defensive and offensive nonkinetic attack options
• Serve as cost-effective force multipliers
As with kinetic weapon systems, DE weapons undergo extensive (and potentially costly) developmental and certification processes. Once fielded, however, DE weapons feature a very favorable cost-exchange ratio compared with their kinetic counterparts. While per-system costs vary, a generalized per-shot cost of $1 to $20 is an affordable weapon option. Newer, electric systems can be charged on-station, allowing deep magazines. Because of that, multiple shots per engagement are inexpensive and have a credible probability of effect against susceptible targets. When used as part of a layered defense capacity alongside kinetic weapons, DE weapons can extend aggregate magazine depth and enhance platform survivability.
At least two recent high-power microwave systems have already been successfully demonstrated. The millimeter wave counterpersonnel Active Denial System can, in theory, play a valuable nonlethal force protection role at fixed sites or on an expeditionary basis — provided policy concerns associated with counterpersonnel DE weapon use can be effectively addressed. Its lack of operational use has stemmed from policy considerations, not technical immaturity.
The other mature system, the CHAMP high-power microwave cruise missile, should also be considered for limited-quantity procurement since it could provide a unique, near-term unmanned counterelectronic capability and a potential escalation (or de-escalation) option for theater commanders.
DOD should consider accelerating development of next-generation solid-state high-power microwave devices on platforms such as the Joint Air-toSurface Standoff Missile or the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, both of which may have sufficient payload volume to generate the desired effects at an acceptable range.
Adding compact high power microwaves to missiles would let the missile hit the electronics of defense systems to enable the missile to hit the target.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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