Directed-Energy Weapons

The next revolution in military affairs is about to begin. But this revolution is not built on bombs or bullets, or anything you can touch with your hands. It's made of ordinary light – in the same spectrum of energy found in your microwave, your light bulb, or in your TV remote control. And it’s called Directed Energy. Directed Energy (DE) Weapons – lasers and high power microwaves – have come of age. Over the past five decades, Directed Energy power capable of being used for weapons has increased by 10 orders of magnitude – over ten billion times – from milliwatt to megawatt. This is like supercharging a laser-pointer used for highlighting PowerPoint slides to shooting down ballistic missiles a hundred kilometers away. Directed Energy is capable of making revolutionary, world-changing advances from fighting wars to battling terrorism. And it can do so today. It's happening so fast; it's the equivalent of a "military Future Shock."

The next generation of DE weapons are being researched, and in the next decade, if they are unleashed on the battlefield, they’ll be more revolutionary than machine guns, stealth airplanes, cruise missiles, nuclear submarines, and the atomic bomb. The underlying concepts have been demonstrated, and only politics and funding are preventing advanced, more powerful DE technology from being deployed. For example, Active Denial, a non-lethal DE weapon developed by the military for crowd control, was declassified in 2001 – but risk-adverse bureaucrats prevented it from becoming operational. MTHEL, a Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser weapon, successfully shot down artillery projectiles and tactical rockets in 2002 – and although politicians killed the U.S. program, the Israelis deployed their own version.

When the laser was invented on July 6, 1960, everyone from military strategists to science fiction writers predicted that DE would be used as weapons. But people were quickly disappointed when lasers didn't cause a "Buck Rogers" blow-it-up effect. The reason was that the technology was immature; power levels at that time were measured in mere thousandths of a watt (milliwatts). It was not until DE’s power radically increased that these dreams could become a reality. Starting with a decades-long path of research, DE first proved useful in low-power applications, allowing for the invention of microwave ovens, CD players, TV remote controls, fiber optics, DVD technology, laser eye surgery—the list goes on. As DE power increased, the applications for this technology grew exponentially. Today, DE is used in heavy industry for welding metal, cutting steel, and drilling through rock, making these tasks cheaper, faster, better, and safer than traditional methods.

For the military-defense complex, DE heralds even greater advancements. The reason is that over time bullets and bombs have neared the limit of their ability. According to the Strategic Bombing Survey, in WWII, it took approximately 5,000 bombs to destroy one target. In Vietnam, the addition of laser-guided technology dropped that number to 500. Technology advanced, and by 1991 in the Iraq war, it took approximately 15 bombs to destroy a target. With an ultimate limit of one bomb being used to destroy a target, warriors are now limited by the number of bombs they can carry; a problem that needs a new technological solution. Another drawback is that bombs and bullets reach their target by following the law of gravity – that is, they travel in trajectories constrained by ballistics and thus take a finite time, sometimes up to minutes, to reach their target. This is where DE can radically change the nature of warfare, and why national and military leaders are so excited about their use.

DE weapons travel at the speed-of-light, 186,000 miles a second. In layman’s terms, as a bullet’s muzzle velocity may be as high as 6,000 feet a second, DE’s “muzzle velocity” is greater than 982,000,000 feet a second – over 16 million percent faster, allowing for today’s warriors to “reach out and touch someone” instantly, even around the globe. Directed Energy is not constrained by gravity, and one type of DE – high-power microwaves, or HPM – can “flood” areas, allowing one HPM weapon to defeat hundreds or even thousands of electronic targets, as opposed to the absolute, best limit of “one bomb to one target.” For example, CHAMP – the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project developed by the Air Force -- has successfully “fried” roomfuls of computers. Another type of DE, lasers, can accurately pinpoint targets within centimeters over thousands of kilometers, as demonstrated by the ongoing Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment that measures the distance between Earth and the Moon

World-changing events can be fueled by revolutions in military affairs, such as the invention of a disruptive technology so profound that it forever changes the nature of conflict. Directed Energy is that next revolution and will ultimately change the strategy and national policy for conducting modern warfare.


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