Is it possible the maturation of one advanced technology can be such a disruptive innovation to the point where certain types of warfare begin to look different? [Laser] directed-energy weapons—or “[LDEWs],” as they are commonly known—present the possibility of transforming warfare due to numerous operational advantages, such as incredible speed and range, light-weight, improved accuracy, and limited collateral damage. In some respects, this innovation is already on the brink of implementation. With forthcoming architectural changes, such as new platforms on which we can mount lasers, operational use could be just on the horizon. In other areas, however, development has stalled because of international laws prohibiting the use of directed-energy weapons against personnel. It is crucial the defense industry find ways to harness the power of a discriminate laser weapon within the Law of Armed Conflict [as we] continue to develop a technology which can target adversarial weapon systems and defend against inbound missiles. If the Law of Armed Conflict is adjusted to permit directed-energy weapons [use against personnel], which could minimize suffering to the most extent possible, using aerial lasers with the power to target personnel on the ground can redefine the way the U.S. Air Force utilizes airpower within the close air support, counterinsurgency, and counterterror attack missions.
DSIAC staff note: The article poses relevant questions specifically to the potential future use of laser directed energy weapon (LDEW) systems against personnel, but confusingly equates lasers with the more general directed energy weapons (DEWs) category. DEWs include not just high-power LDEW systems, but also acoustic, high-power microwave (HPM), low-power laser dazzler, particle beam, electromagnetic jammer, and other systems that can be used to emit focused (directed) energy at range to create lethal and/or non-lethal effects. For more on directed energy weapon systems, see the following DSIAC products:
DSIAC Journal Articles
DSAIC Fact Sheets