Directed Energy Weapons Mature

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Directed Energy Weapons Mature

As our military hardware grows in sophistication and capability, so do the price tags.  For example, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier costs up to $5 billion and carries up to $3 billion worth of aircraft.  Yet, in spite of the high-tech, high-cost countermeasures that protect our hardware, there are significant chinks in the armor.  Consider how a speed boat loaded with explosives nearly sank the destroyer USS Cole in 2000.


These types of low-cost, improvised attacks are termed “asymmetrical threats.”  Of course, “low-cost” is a relative term, but if a million-dollar missile can take out a $5 billion aircraft carrier, even it would be considered low-cost.  With the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and even long-range ballistic missiles in the arsenals of hostile dictators and terrorist groups, this scenario becomes very real.  Other threats include high-speed small boat attacks, submerged mines, and other attack systems — and historically, there’s been no cost-effective way to respond.

Fortunately, there is a class of weapons poised to fill this security void and protect against asymmetrical threats.  They are Directed Energy Weapons.1

These weapons emit a beam of electromagnetic energy aimed at a target, as opposed to traditional weapons that send a projectile with or without an explosive charge.  This energy creates the desired effect, which may be nonlethal or lethal.  Some of the most notable categories of these new weapons include laser, radio frequency, microwave, and sonic.

Laser Directed Energy Weapons have recently received significant attention because of positive test results, as well as at least six big advantages that they offer compared to conventional weapons in countering asymmetrical threats.  These advantages are:

  1. A laser beam travels at the speed of light, so hitting a fast or evasive moving target is not an issue, even over long distances.
  2. Once the target is identified, the beam can reach it almost instantly, which is ideal for dealing with supersonic threats at close range.
  3. Lasers can potentially attack multiple targets at nearly the same moment.
  4. Light is negligibly affected by gravity and wind, so adjustments on targets do not have to be made to deal with these environmental factors.
  5. With a sufficient power source, ammunition is essentially limitless.
  6. Laser weapons can have a much larger operational range than that of ballistic weapons.

The first real proposal for the deployment of laser weapons was embodied in Ronald Reagan’s “Strategic Defense Initiative...

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