Developing Directed Energy Weapons
DEWS are the answer to the Sino-indian asymmetry as they can render all current nuclear weapons and the delivery systems worthless—burn them off in seconds including missiles in the initial upward boost phase of flight itself
TO SAY THAT WEAPONISATION of space is not taking place would be denying the obvious. Origins of Indian mythology of Mahabharata apart, China’s bid to play down its anti-satellite (ASAT) test of 2007 do not obfuscate the fact. A host of countries have focused on research and development (R&D) in developing directed energy weapons (DEWs) through primarily laser-based weapons and delivery systems—land-, sea-, air- and space-based. DEWs in fact are the answer to today’s nuclear weapons and their delivery systems—the proverbial ‘death ray’ travelling at the speed of light. The DEW emits energy in the desired direction, onto the desired target (effects of which may be lethal or non-lethal depending on what the attacker wants), destroying or disabling it without using any projectile. Not only will this be the next paradigm of war, they will likely be deployed in large numbers by the year 2020. By then, even the problem of plasma breakdown in air causing the laser to de-focus and disperse energy into the atmosphere, particularly during fog, smoke and dust, would have been overcome. Most significantly, laser weapons will have limitless ammunition given sufficient power source. In addition, their range will be much more as compared to ballistic weapons with favourable atmospheric conditions and power level.
In a test firing during 2010, Raytheon’s ship-borne laser successfully destroyed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). In another test in the US, the cannon aboard a ship at sea fired a relatively weak 15 kilowatt laser beam disabling an enemy vessel. The US Yal-1A Boeing aircraft-based laser system that generates a laser beam having 1megawatt of power can kill enemy aircraft at the speed of light. A one megawatt laser beam can burn through 20 feet of steel in a single second. Northrop Grumman has developed the truck-mounted laser. A laser assault rifle too has been devel- oped whose energy output can be controlled—high-power for lethal outcomes or low power for non-lethal effect. BAE Systems and Boeing are in partnership to blend kinetic and laser weapons onto naval platforms. The Russian ASAT is MiG-31 based. Chinese programmes are under wraps but undoubtedly being vigorously pursued.
India too is looking into uses of laser technology. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) identify DEWs, along with space security, cyber security and hypersonic vehicles as future projects. India has been developing the kilo ampere linear injector (KALI) linear electron accelerator for some time. Currently, it is not a laser weapon albeit China thinks so since it can be progressed into a high-powered microwave weapon. A laser dazzler has been developed that will impair vision temporarily to control unruly crowds. In addition, DRDO’s Laser Science and Tech Centre (LASTEC) is developing Aditya, a vehicle-mounted gas dynamic laser-based DEW system (as tech- nology demonstrator)—a 25-kilowatt laser system under development to hit a missile in terminal phase at a distance of 5-7 km. The next step is to create solid state lasers which are very portable and can be fitted on various platforms. This is projected to be achieved by 2020. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap identifies DEWs and anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons as thrust areas over next 15 years. India has identified development of ASAT weapons for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both low earth orbit (2,000 km altitude above earth’s surface) and the higher geosynchronous orbit in the long-term integrated perspective plan (2012-27). DRDO is working on 6,000 square kilometres radius systems in respect of exo-atmospheric kill vehicles.
DEWs are the answer to the Sino-Indian asymmetry as they can render all current nuclear weapons and the delivery systems worthless—burn them off in seconds including missiles in the initial upward boost phase of flight itself. Undoubtedly, the vital aspect will be to have accurate and effective radars to locate and track enemy missiles instantaneously on launch and activate own DEWs to neutralise them. Such radars will essentially have to be space-based (mounted on satellites) as ground-based, ship-based and airborne radar systems with limited range and accuracy have a limited capability to locate and track such missiles. To say that space is only being used for civilian and reconnaissance purposes will be a misnomer for the simple reason that countries like the US, China and Russia would already be doing so because of the dual usage of such radars. Similarly, DEWs when mounted on satellites will be difficult to detect unless actually fired. Chinese military strategy of shock, deception and surprise coupled with Chinese record of ambiguity and deceit lends itself to space weaponisation.
There is no reason why India should not cater to such asymmetry. Great nations must remain committed to lofty moral principles and humane values, but one must understand that the power of principle can be most effectively pursued when it is complemented by the principle of the relevant power of the times. Officially, China may have pooh-poohed the Agni-V test but internally it surely is very concerned that Beijing and focal centres of its economic progress are within Indian missile range. It is assumed that the next generation of Chinese assuming power in Beijing five years from now, is likely to be much more aggressive. However, it would be prudent for them not to be so, least countries so threatened get going a strategic partnership (not necessarily alliance) in developing DEWs for collective response. In any event, India must leapfrog optimising the laser, bearing in mind the Chinese penchant of not only ‘human wave’ tactics on ground but also ‘mass missile attacks’. Concurrently, active denial systems against DEW attacks too must be developed expeditiously.
Northrop Grumman’s joint high power solid state laser