A directed-energy weapon (DEW) emits highly focused energy, transferring that energy to a target to damage it.
Potential applications of this technology include anti-personnel weapon systems, potential missile defense system, and the disabling of lightly armored vehicles such as cars, drones, jet skis, and electronic devices such as mobile phones.
DEWs can be used discreetly as radiation above and below the visible spectrum is invisible and can pass through most solid matter.
Laser weapons could have several main advantages over conventional weaponry:
Laser beams travel at the speed of light, so there is no need (except over extremely long distances) to compensate for target movement. Consequently, evading an accurately aimed laser after it has been fired is impossible.
Light is only slightly affected by gravity, so that long-range projection requires little compensation. Other aspects such as wind speed can be neglected at most times, unless shooting through an absorptive matter.
Lasers can change focusing configuration to provide an active area that can be much smaller or larger than projectile weaponry.
Given a sufficient power source, laser weapons could essentially have limitless ammunition.
Because light has a practically zero ratio of momentum to energy (exactly ), lasers produce negligible recoil.
Laser beams do not generate sound or light that would be detected by human senses when emitted, so the weapon would not betray its user's position when fired.
Modern ballistic weapons commonly feature systems to counter many of the undesirable side-effects mentioned above.
Although some devices are labelled as Microwave Weapons, the microwave range is commonly defined as being between 300 MHz and 300 GHz which is within the RF range. Some examples of weapons which have been publicized by the military are as follows:
Active Denial System is a millimeter wave source that heats the water in the target's skin and thus causes incapacitating pain. It is being used by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Raytheon for riot-control duty. Though intended to cause severe pain while leaving no lasting damage, some concern has been voiced as to whether the system could cause irreversible damage to the eyes. There has yet to be testing for long-term side effects of exposure to the microwave beam. It can also destroy unshielded electronics: see TEMPEST (research into unintended electronic release of information). The device comes in various sizes including attached to a humvee.
Vigilant Eagle is an airport defense system that directs high-frequency microwaves towards any projectile that is fired at an aircraft. The system consists of a missile-detecting and tracking subsystem (MDT), a command and control system, and a scanning array. The MDT is a fixed grid of passive infrared (IR) cameras. The command and control system determines the missile launch point. The scanning array projects microwaves that disrupt the surface-to-air missile's guidance system, deflecting it from the aircraft.
The effective radiated power (ERP) of the EL/M-2080 Green Pine radar makes it a possible candidate for conversion into a directed-energy weapon, by focusing pulses of radar energy on target missiles. The energy spikes are tailored to enter missiles through antennas or sensor apertures where they can fool guidance systems, scramble computer memories or even burn out sensitive electronic components.
AESA radars mounted on fighter aircraft have been slated as directed energy weapons against missiles but, a senior US Air Force officer was quoted noting: "they aren't particularly suited to create weapons effects on missiles because of limited antenna size, power and field of view". Potentially lethal effects are produced only inside 100 metres range, and disruptive effects at distances of the order of one kilometre. Moreover, cheap countermeasures can be applied to existing missiles.
Lasers are often used for sighting, ranging and targeting for guns; in these cases the laser beam is not the source of the weapon's firepower.
Laser weapons usually generate brief high-energy pulses. A one megajoule laser pulse delivers roughly the same energy as 200 grams of high explosive, and has the same basic effect on a target.
Most existing weaponized lasers are gas dynamic lasers. Fuel, or a powerful turbine, pushes the lasing media through a circuit or series of orifices. The high-pressures and heating cause the medium to form a plasma and lase. A major difficulty with these systems is preserving the high-precision mirrors and windows of the laser resonating cavity. Most systems use a low-powered "oscillator" laser to generate a coherent wave, and then amplify it. Some experimental laser amplifiers do not use windows or mirrors, but have open orifices, which cannot be destroyed by high energies.
Some lasers are used as non-lethal weapons, such as dazzlers which are designed to temporarily blind or distract people or sensors.
An electrolaser lets blooming occur, and then sends a powerful electric current down the conducting ionized track of plasma so formed, somewhat like lightning. It functions as a giant high energy long-distance version of the Taser or stun gun.
Pulsed Energy Projectile or PEP systems emit an infrared laser pulse which creates rapidly expanding plasma at the target. The resulting sound, shock and electromagnetic waves stun the target and cause pain and temporary paralysis. The weapon is under development and is intended as a non-lethal weapon in crowd control.
On March 18, 2009 Northrop Grumman announced that its engineers in Redondo Beach had successfully built and tested an electric laser capable of producing a 100-kilowatt ray of light, powerful enough to destroy cruise missiles, artillery, rockets and mortar rounds. An electric laser is theoretically capable, according to Brian Strickland, manager for the United States Army's Joint High Power Solid State Laser program, of being mounted in an aircraft, ship, or vehicle because it requires much less space for its supporting equipment than a chemical laser.
On April 6, 2011, the U.S. Navy successfully tested a laser gun, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, that was mounted on the former USS Paul Foster, which is currently used as the navy's test ship. When engaged during the test that occurred off the coast of Central California in the Pacific Ocean test range, the laser gun was documented as having "a destructive effect on a high-speed cruising target," said Chief of Naval Research Admiral Nevin Carr. While classified, the proposed range of the laser gun is measured in miles, not yards.
Northrop Grumman has announced the availability of a high-energy solid-state laser weapon system that they call FIRESTRIKE, introduced on 13 November 2008. The system is modular, using 15 kW modules that can be combined to provide various levels of power.
Existing methods of storing, conducting, transforming, and directing energy are inadequate to produce a convenient hand-held weapon. Existing lasers waste much energy as heat, requiring still-bulky cooling equipment to avoid overheating damage. Air cooling can yield an unacceptable delay between shots. These problems, which severely limit laser weapon practicality at present, might be offset by:
These problems could be lessened if the weapon were mounted either at a defensive position near a power plant, or on board a large, possibly nuclear powered, water-going ship, as it would have the advantage of plentiful water for cooling.
Laser beams begin to cause plasma breakdown in the atmosphere at energy densities of around one megajoule per cubic centimetre. This effect, called "blooming," causes the laser to defocus and disperse energy into the surrounding air. Blooming can be more severe if there is fog, smoke, or dust in the air.
Techniques that may reduce these effects include:
Spreading the beam across a large, curved mirror that focuses the power on the target, to keep energy density en route too low for blooming to happen. This requires a large, very precise, fragile mirror, mounted somewhat like a searchlight, requiring bulky machinery to slew the mirror to aim the laser.
Using a phased array. For typical laser wavelengths, this method would require billions of micrometre-size antennae. There is currently no known way to implement these, though carbon nanotubes have been proposed. Phased arrays could theoretically also perform phase-conjugate amplification (see below). Phased arrays do not require mirrors or lenses, and can be made flat and thus do not require a turret-like system (as in "spread beam") to be aimed, though range will suffer if the target is at extreme angles to the surface of the phased array.
Using a phase-conjugate laser system. This method employs a "finder" or "guide" laser illuminating the target. Any mirror-like ("specular") points on the target reflect light that is sensed by the weapon's primary amplifier. The weapon then amplifies inverted waves in a positive feedback loop, destroying the target with shockwaves as the specular regions evaporate. This avoids blooming because the waves from the target pass through the blooming, and therefore show the most conductive optical path; this automatically corrects for the distortions caused by blooming. Experimental systems using this method usually use special chemicals to form a "phase-conjugate mirror". In most systems, the mirror overheats dramatically at weapon-useful power levels.
Using a very short pulse that finishes before blooming interferes.
Focusing multiple lasers of relatively low power on a single target.
Evaporated target material
Another problem with weaponized lasers is that the evaporated material from the target's surface begins to shade the beam. There are several approaches to this problem:
Inducing a standing shockwave in the ablation cloud. The shockwave then continues to inflict damage.
Scanning the target faster than the shockwave propagates.
Inducing plasmic optical mixing at the target by modulating the transparency of the target's ablation cloud to one laser by another laser, perhaps by tuning the laser to the absorption spectra of the ablation cloud, and inducing population inversion in the cloud. The other laser then induces local lasing in the ablation cloud. The beat frequency that results can induce frequencies that penetrate the ablation cloud.
A laser beam or particle beam passing through air can be absorbed or scattered by rain, snow, dust, fog, smoke, or similar visual obstructions that a bullet would easily penetrate. This effect adds to blooming problems and makes the dissipation of energy into the atmosphere worse.
The wasted energy can disrupt cloud development since the impact wave creates a "tunneling effect". Engineers from MIT and the U.S. Army are looking into using this effect for precipitation management.
Lack of indirect fire capabilities
Indirect fire, as used in artillery warfare, can reach a target behind a hill, but is not feasible with line-of-sight DEWs. Possible alternatives are to mount the lasers (or perhaps just reflectors) on airborne or space-based platforms.
The Chinese People's Liberation Army has invested in the development of coatings that can deflect beams fired by U.S. military lasers. Lasers are composed of light that can be deflected, reflected, or absorbed by manipulating physical and chemical properties of materials. Artificial coatings can counter certain specific types of lasers, but if a different type was used than the coating was designed to handle it would be able to burn through it. Available information on a system's size, power consumption, major components, and laser generation methods can determine the type of laser beam and which type of coating. The coatings are made of several different substances including low-cost metals, rare earths, carbon fiber, silver, and diamonds that have been processed to fine sheens and tailored against specific laser weapon systems. China is developing anti-laser defenses because protection against them is considered far cheaper than creating competing laser weapons themselves; China is some 10 to 20 years behind the United States in development of laser weapons due to energy generation and storage problems.
Particle-beam weapons can use charged or neutral particles, and can be either endoatmospheric or exoatmospheric. Particle beams as beam weapons are theoretically possible, but practical weapons have not been demonstrated. Certain types of particle beams have the advantage of being self-focusing in the atmosphere.
Blooming is also a problem in particle-beam weapons. Energy that would otherwise be focused on the target spreads out; the beam becomes less effective:
Thermal blooming occurs in both charged and neutral particle beams, and occurs when particles bump into one another under the effects of thermal vibration, or bump into air molecules.
Electrical blooming occurs only in charged particle beams, as ions of like charge repel one another.
The MARAUDER (Magnetically Accelerated Ring to Achieve Ultra-high Directed-Energy and Radiation) used the Shiva Star project (a high energy capacitor bank which provided the means to test weapons and other devices requiring brief and extremely large amounts of energy) to accelerate a toroid of plasma at a significant percentage of the speed of light.
Electric beam in a vacuum
In a vacuum (e.g., in space), an electric discharge can travel a potentially unlimited distance at a velocity slightly slower than the speed of light. This is because there is no significant electric resistance to the flow of electric current in a vacuum. This would make such devices useful to destroy the electrical and electronic parts of satellites and spacecraft. However, in a vacuum the electric current cannot ride a laser beam, and some other means must be used to keep the electron beam on track and to prevent it from dispersing: see particle beam.
Speed of the weapon
The speed of the energy weapon is determined by the density of the beam. If it is very dense then it is very powerful, but a particle beam moves much slower than the speed of light. Its speed is determined by mass, power, density, or particle/energy density.
Cavitation, which affects gas nuclei in human tissue, and heating can result from exposure to ultrasound and can damage tissue and organs. Studies have found that exposure to high intensity ultrasound at frequencies from 700 kHz to 3.6 MHz can cause lung and intestinal damage in mice. Heart rate patterns following vibroacoustic stimulation have resulted in serious arterial flutter and bradycardia. Researchers have concluded that generating pain through the auditory system using high intensity sound risked permanent hearing damage.
A multi-organization research program involved high intensity audible sound experiments on human subjects. Extra-aural (unrelated to hearing) bioeffects on various internal organs and the central nervous system included auditory shifts, vibrotactile sensitivity change, muscle contraction, cardiovascular function change, central nervous system effects, vestibular (inner ear) effects, and chest wall/lung tissue effects. Researchers found that low frequency sonar exposure could result in significant cavitations, hypothermia, and tissue shearing. Follow-on experiments were not recommended.
Tests performed on mice show the threshold for both lung and liver damage occurs at about 184 dB. Damage increases rapidly as intensity is increased. Noise-induced neurological disturbances in humans exposed to continuous low frequency tones for durations longer than 15 minutes involved development of immediate and long-term problems affecting brain tissue. The symptoms resembled those of individuals who had suffered minor head injuries. One theory for a causal mechanism is that the prolonged sound exposure resulted in enough mechanical strain to brain tissue to induce an encephalopathy.
According to legend, the concept of the "burning mirror" or death ray began with Archimedes who created a mirror with an adjustable focal length (or more likely, a series of mirrors focused on a common point) to focus sunlight on ships of the Roman fleet as they invaded Syracuse, setting them on fire. Historians point out that the earliest accounts of the battle did not mention a "burning mirror", but merely stated that Archimedes's ingenuity combined with a way to hurl fire were relevant to the victory. Some attempts to replicate this feat have had some success; in particular, an experiment by students at MIT showed that a mirror-based weapon was at least possible, if not necessarily practical.
Engine-stopping rays, urban legend made real
Engine-stopping rays are a variant that occurs in fiction and myth. Such stories were circulating in Britain around 1938. The tales varied but in general terms told of tourists whose car engine suddenly died and were then approached by a German soldier who told them that they had to wait. The soldier returned a short time later to say that the engine would now work and the tourists drove off. A possible origin of some of these stories arises from the testing of the television transmitter in Feldberg, Germany. Because electrical noise from car engines would interfere with field strength measurements, sentries would stop all traffic in the vicinity for the twenty minutes or so needed for a test. A distorted retelling of the events might give rise to the idea that a transmission killed the engine.
Modern automobile engines are not mechanically but electronically controlled. Disabling the electronics can indeed stop the engine. This has been implemented in OnStar, which has a remote control feature, but this is not a weapon. It is an add-on to the electronics of the car. Because a car is operating on a closed system, it would be impossible to use an electronic means of disengaging an engine, short of electrocuting it via laser or pulse weaponry. See also electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which is known for its engine-stopping effect, but is an undirected-energy weapon.
Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), a noted inventor, scientist and electrical engineer, developed early high frequency technologies. Tesla worked on plans for a directed-energy weapon from the early 1900s until his death. In 1937, Tesla composed a treatise entitled The Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media concerning charged particle beams.
Among the directed-energy weapons the Nazis investigated were X-ray beam weapons developed under Heinz Schmellenmeier, Richard Gans and Fritz Houtermans. They built an electron accelerator called Rheotron (invented by Max Steenbeck at Siemens-Schuckert in the 1930s, these were later called Betatrons by the Americans) to generate hard X-ray synchrotron beams for the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM). The intent was to pre-ionize ignition in Aircraft engines and hence serve as anti-aircraft DEW and bring planes down into the reach of the FLAK. The Rheotron was captured by the Americans in Burggrub on April 14, 1945.
Another approach was Ernst Schiebolds 'Röntgenkanone' developed from 1943 in Großostheim near Aschaffenburg. The Company Richert Seifert & Co from Hamburg delivered parts.
Microwave weapons were investigated together with the Japanese.
Though the strategic missile defense concept has continued to the present under the Missile Defense Agency, most of the directed-energy weapon concepts were shelved. However, Boeing has been somewhat successful with the Boeing YAL-1 and Boeing NC-135, the first of which destroyed two missiles in February 2010. Funding has been cut to both of the programs.
During the Iraq War, electromagnetic weapons, including high power microwaves, were used by the U.S. military to disrupt and destroy Iraqi electronic systems and may have been used for crowd control. Types and magnitudes of exposure to electromagnetic fields are unknown.
Alleged tracking of Space Shuttle Challenger
The Soviet Union invested some effort in the development of ruby and carbon dioxide lasers as anti-ballistic missile systems, and later as a tracking and anti-satellite system. There are reports that the Terra-3 complex at Sary Shagan was used on several occasions to temporarily "blind" US spy satellites in the IR range.
It has been claimed[who?] that the USSR made use of the lasers at the Terra-3 site to target the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984. At the time, the Soviet Union were concerned that the shuttle was being used as a reconnaissance platform. On 10 October 1984 (STS-41-G), the Terra-3 tracking laser was allegedly aimed at Challenger as it passed over the facility. Early reports claimed that this was responsible for causing "malfunctions on the space shuttle and distress to the crew." The United States filed a diplomatic protest about the incident. However, this story is comprehensively denied by the crew members of STS-41-G and knowledgeable members of the US intelligence community.
Dazzlers are devices used for temporarily blinding or stunning an attacker, or to stop a driver in a moving vehicle. Targets can also include mechanical sensors or aircraft. Dazzlers emit infrared or invisible light against various electronic sensors, and visible light against humans, when they are intended to cause no long-term damage to eyes. The emitters are usually lasers, making what is termed a laser dazzler. Most of the contemporary systems are man-portable, and operate in either the red (a laser diode) or green (a diode-pumped solid-state laser, DPSS) areas of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Currently, the technology is being considered for non-military use to protect Earth from asteroids.
The TECOM Technology Symposium in 1997 concluded on non-lethal weapons, "determining the target effects on personnel is the greatest challenge to the testing community", primarily because "the potential of injury and death severely limits human tests".
Also, "directed energy weapons that target the central nervous system and cause neurophysiological disorders may violate the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980. Weapons that go beyond non-lethal intentions and cause "superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering" may also violate the Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1977."
Some common bio-effects of non-lethal electromagnetic weapons include:
^"Non-Lethal Swimmer Neutralization Study"; Applied Research Laboratories; The University of Texas at Austin; G2 Software Systems, Inc., San Diego; TECHNICAL DOCUMENT 3138; May 2002 Non-Lethal Swimmer Neutralization Study
^U.S. Senate - Committee on Veterans Affairs: Hearings - Gulf War Illnesses; Testimony to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; Meryl Nass, MD, Director of Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Mount Desert Island Hospital Bar Harbor, Maine; September 25, 2007 
^Human Effects Advisory Panel Program; presented to: NDIANon-Lethal Defense IV 
^Non-Lethal Weaponry: From Tactical to Strategic Applications; Colonel Dennis B. Herbert, USMC (Ret.), program developer, Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies at Pennsylvania State University; pg. 4