Directed energy weapons (DEW), although still a nascent technology, will revolutionize several aspects of modern warfare. While still immature, the technology has the capability to allow both defensive and offensive techniques against a wide spectrum of targets. Decades ago, prior to the development of non-nuclear warfare, DEW tactical options did not exist, and nuclear high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) weapons were the predominant capability in this field.
Q. How do directed energy weapons work?
A. DEWs are systems that mainly use direct energy (atomic or subatomic particles or concentrated electromagnetic energy) for the purpose of damaging or destroying facilities, adversary equipment, and personnel. These weapons can be either lethal or non-lethal depending on their application areas.
DEW are mainly of two types: Lasers and microwaves, both of which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. High-energy lasers emit highly-focused lower-powered energy beams using one of the two mechanisms – electric power or chemical fuel, while high-powered microwaves direct electrically charged microwave beams at a wide angle locking on the target.
Q. What is the development outlook of directed energy weapon systems in the future?
A. Directed energy weapon systems will display substantial demand in the future, thereby leading to the development of its associated market. Analysts at Transparency Market Research project the global directed energy weapons market to display a magnificent 20.8% CAGR from 2014 to 2020. The rising demand for crowd control weapons and the need to combat adversarial situations such as terrorist attacks are propelling the demand for directed energy weapons globally. Moreover, several governments around the world are gearing up to modernize the capabilities of their armed troops in the form of advanced weaponry, which is influencing the growth of this market. Presently, countries such as Russia, France, China, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Israel are making hefty investments in the development of directed energy weapons.
Q. Are there operational difficulties in the utilization of DEW?
A. Yes. The beam quality need for directed energy weapons is 10 times more than that of industrial lasers as the targets are far away. The capability of these weapons depends on atmospheric conditions too, which, if unfavorable, can adversely affect a weapon’s capability to lock and destroy its target.
Funding is a challenge too. Directed energy weapons are in competition with other established modernization programs for enhancing warfare capabilities. The next big challenge for directed energy weapons is crossing the ‘valley of death,’ wherein the money spent on basic and applied research to reach to the prototype phase fades in comparison to the cost incurred in actually operationalizing DEW systems.
Q. What is the current position of fielding DEW in operations in the Western World?
A. Britain is all set to take its first crucial step for fielding a laser directed energy weapon in the coming month. The Ministry of Defense is on the lookout for a contractor to construct a technology demonstrator to validate the system.
Earlier in 2015, in a first, a directed energy weapon was deployed on the USS Ponce of the United States navy and was proved to be operationally effective.