America Needs New Weapons

July 30, 2018 | Source: Fortune Magazine, fortune.com, 5 July 2018, Henry Obering III

Today, high-energy laser and high-power microwave systems—or “directed energy” weapons, which use focused electromagnetic energy—have been shown to work and could combat a variety of emerging threats, but more investment is needed to bring them into the hands of our warfighters more quickly to protect the American people.

One might imagine that using a beam of light as a weapon is a recent military development, but the practice may date back more than 2,000 years. Legend has it that Archimedes, a Greek mathematician and engineer, used mirrors to direct the sun’s rays at approaching enemy ships to try to set their sails on fire. Today, high-energy laser and high-power microwave systems—or “directed energy” weapons, which use focused electromagnetic energy—have been shown to work and could combat a variety of emerging threats, but more investment is needed to bring them into the hands of our warfighters more quickly to protect the American people.

With the Pentagon’s long-anticipated Missile Defense Review expected to be released soon, it is important for government and defense decision-makers to understand directed energy’s applications for missile defense. Directed energy weapons reach targets at the speed of light, and have much larger magazines, cost less per shot, and track targets with precision far beyond traditional kinetic weapons. These characteristics make directed energy weapons uniquely capable of combating threats from hypersonic missiles (missiles that can fly at more than five times the speed of sound), as well as from the ballistic missile defense challenges from countries like North Korea dominating the headlines over the past several months. High-energy lasers, for example, could destroy a missile by burning through critical structures, control surfaces, and/or control systems, causing the missile to structurally fail or become uncontrollable.