Lasers, and other Directed Energy Weapons (DEW), have long been relegated to the realm of science fiction. However, this technology is soon becoming a reality.
Directed Energy Weapons offer numerous benefits over their conventional projectile-based counterparts. A laser is inherently faster, more accurate, and possess a longer range than a bullet or missile. Additionally, lasers do not need to be stored like conventional ammunition. For example, a naval vessel would only need a generator to produce the energy needed for the laser. This not only eliminates the chance of a magazine explosion, while freeing up valuable space aboard the ship. Another benefit of this technology is the relative cost of use. A single guided missile can cost millions of dollars, while a single bolt from a laser would only cost as much as the energy used to produce it (1).
Though this all looks good on paper, it is difficult to duplicate in practice. For decades, science has been working on ways to bring a functional laser weapon to life. In the past there existed a handful of successful prototypes, but they were often massive in size and required enormous amounts of power. Only a handful of practical DEWs have been produced at this point in time.
One such system is the Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS). This 30-kilowatt laser is currently being used aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf, with great success. The LaWS has shown the ability to engage a multitude of targets including drones and small boats, all while operating at a relatively low cost per engagement. The Navy has been so impressed with the performance of this weapon that it plans to test a 150-kilowatt variant later this year (2).
The Navy is not the only branch of the military implementing DEWs. The Air Force’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) is another interesting prospect. This system is fixed onto an aircraft and is designed to deal with ground-based threats such as surface-to-air missiles, rockets, mortars, and possibly even other aircraft. HELLADS is able to engage multiple threats within a short period of time; and, although it is designed as a defensive weapon, it has near limitless potential to be used for offensive purposes as well. Though this technology is still being finalized, the military is looking to implement HELLADS by 2018 (3).
In the ever-advancing world of military technology, the United States Military is always looking to be ahead of the game. Over the coming years, all branches of the Armed Forces will be using Directed Energy Weapons. Soon, battlefields will resemble something straight out of science fiction film.
(1) "Energy Weapon Sidearms." Atomic Rockets. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2016.
(2) McCaney, Kevin. "Navy Cranks up the Power on Laser Weapon -- Defense Systems." Defense Systems. N.p., 28 June 2016. Web. 07 July 2016.
(3) Burlacu, Alexandra. "DARPA And Air Force To Equip War Planes With HELLADS Combat Lasers By 2020." Tech Times RSS. N.p., 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 July 2016.
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