As the global arms race drives on into the 21st century, many countries have turned their attention towards the research and development of Directed Energy Weapons. Directed Energy Weapons, or DEWs, are defined as any weapon that emits focused energy and can transfer said energy to inflict damage upon a target.
DEWs are broken up into two distinct classifications—lasers and microwave weapons. Lasers, the more well-known of the DEWs, work by using a super-heated plasma projectile that can inflict massive amounts of damage onto a target. Laser weapon systems can be currently found in limited numbers across all branches of the United States’ military. So far, even in their limited time on the battlefield, lasers have already proven themselves extremely effective and efficient.
High Powered Microwaves (HPMs) are the other form of DEW. Where lasers are primarily used for destroying single targets at great distances, HPMs are primarily designed to be non-lethal and can effect a rather large area. One of the main capabilities of HPMs is the disruption of enemy electronic equipment. Although electronic warfare may not have the same appeal as conventional warfare, one must realize how much militaries today rely on electronic equipment in order to operate. The average foot soldier is covered head to toe in electronics, from his GPS, to the optics on his rifle. If these systems were to fail, then the overall combat effectiveness of not just the individual, but entire unit, would be compromised. This is the primary reason for the interest behind HPMs; battles can be won without a single life being lost, hypothetically.
One of the first working HPMs was unveiled in Russia earlier this year. Named the “Ranets E”, this HPM is designed to disrupt enemy airborne threats such as drones, guided missiles, and even aircraft from distances of over twenty miles. Experts describe the Ranets E as a sort of “radio frequency cannon”; it possess a powerful directional beam of electromagnetic radiation and causes short circuits in electrical equipment, rendering them essentially useless. The entire system is self-propelled, based atop the chassis of a MZKT-7930, a Russian multipurpose transport vehicle. This ensures that the Ranets E is able to keep pace with other mechanized units on the battlefield (2).
The primary mission for the Ranets E will be to accompany mobile Surface to Air Missile (SAM) platforms. The Ranets E will theoretically protect the SAMs by disrupting and disabling guidance systems on precision guided munitions (PGMs).
Despite the promise behind the Ranets E, many experts in the west believe that Russia may be exaggerating its abilities. The data that accompanies reports from the Ranets E has been inconsistent, leading many to believe it to be Russian propaganda. Although the Ranets E may not be as effective as the Russian government may want us to believe, it has still influenced a handful of countries to start their own projects.
The United States’ Air Force is currently in the midst of developing their own HPM that could see limited service within the next decade (3).
As global politics, along with the modern battlefield, change expect countries to slowly turn to the use of High Powered Microwaves for use in their military. HPMs are an effective and non-lethal alternative to conventional weapons that could change the face of war for years to come.
(1) "27 Jul 2016 — Resurgence of High Power Microwave Weapons." - Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(2) "Ranets E – High Power Microwave Directed Energy Weapon." Thai Military and Asian Region. 19 Aug. 2016. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(3) "Air Force Looking for Power Sources and Antennas for Future High-power Microwave Weapons." Air Force Looking for Power Sources and Antennas for Future High-power Microwave Weapons. 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
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