The US Military Is Getting Serious About Laser Weapons

Forget Space Force. The future is in “directed energy.”

U.S. Air Force HADES directed energy weapon
This is HADES, or the High-power Adaptive Directed Energy System, a directed-energy weapon demonstrator.
Photo: Nutronics Inc. via the Air Force Research Laboratory
By Alex Lauer / March 6, 2020 12:13 pm

Let’s be honest, Space Force, the newest branch of the U.S. military, sounds more like a plot line cut from Spaceballs than Star Wars. If you want the scoop on the real futuristic developments in our armed forces, ones that mirror higher-quality science fiction, look no further than the directed energy department. 

What is “directed energy”? In short: lasers. Yes, the U.S. military has been developing weaponized lasers. And as The Economist explains in a new feature on the technology, what previously seemed like an unattainable dream popularized by George Lucas and H.G. Wells has already been green-lit for use in the field, and more powerful versions are on their way.

“For my entire career we have been working on directed energy,” Kelly Hammett, who runs the Directed Energy Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory, told The Economist. “We’re finally at the point at which we’re going to see systems that will make a more substantive difference on the battlefield.”

The keywords there are “more substantive,” because as the article notes, a low-power solid-state laser already had a successful test and deployment in 2014.

“When fitted to a small vessel called USS Ponce it proved able to fry the components and motors of nearby drones and boats,” writes The Economist. “Ponce’s captain was then given permission to use it for real, if he needed to. In light of this success a 60kw system, similarly intended for use, will be fitted on USS Preble, a destroyer, later this year.”

That’s just one instance of new tests slated for the coming years. The ultimate goal? To target large missiles, and potentially other airborne weapons, without the U.S. having to rely on its own defensive missiles which can cost tens of thousands of dollars each. 

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