Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield: A New Vision for 2025

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by John P. Geis II, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF

April 2003
Occasional Paper No. 32
Center for Strategy and Technology
Air War College

Air University
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama

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Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield: A New Vision for 2025
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ii… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield


John P. Geis, II, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF

April 2003

The Occasional papers series was established by the Center for Strategy
and Technology as a forum for research on topics that reflect long-term
strategic thinking about technology and its implications for U.S. national
security. Copies of No. 32 in this series are available from the Center for
Strategy and Technology, Air War College, 325 Chennault Circle,
Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112, or on the CSAT web site at The fax number is
(334) 953-6158; phone (334) 953-6460.

Occasional Paper No. 32
Center for Strategy and Technology

Air University
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama 36112


ABSTRACT ……………………………………………………………………………….. VII
I. INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………..1
WEAPONS ………………………………………………………………………………15
IV. THE PERSIAN GULF WAR OF 2025……………………………………….21
VI. CONCLUSION ……………………………………………………………………….41


ii… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield


The views expressed in this academic research paper are those of
the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Air
University, the U.S. government or the Department of Defense. In
accordance with Air Force Instruction 51-303, it is not copyrighted, but is
the property of the United States government.

iv… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Figure 1: Continuous Wave Laser Power Development Over
Time (2025 Extrapolated)……………………………………..16

Figure 2: Pulsed Laser Power Output Over Time (2025 Data
Figure 3: Weapon of Mass Destruction Characteristics…………………40


Lieutenant Colonel John P. Geis II entered the Air Force in 1983
as an Honors Graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Lt Col
Geis has had a varied career. An instructor weapons systems officer and
navigator, Lieutenant Colonel Geis has over 1,200 hours in the F-111A, F-
111E, T-37, AT-38B, T-43, and AC-130H aircraft. Operationally, he
served as a planner for Operation ELDORADO CANYON, flew combat
missions over Bosnia-Herzegovina, and commanded a special operations
task force in Korea. He served as the Chief, Leadership Branch at
Squadron Officer School where he restructured the leadership curriculum
used to train all Air Force company grade officers. While attending Air
Command and Staff College, Lieutenant Colonel Geis co-authored the
Alternate Futures Monograph for the Chief of Staff-directed Air Force
2025 study. Before attending the Air War College, he was assigned to
staff duties as Chief, Strategic Planning, Doctrine, and Force Integration
Branch at Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command. In this
capacity he was responsible for all long-range planning, doctrine
development, and joint force integration for all Air Force Special Forces.
He led the development of AFSOF 2027, a future vision document that
guided procurement for Air Force Special Forces. Lieutenant Colonel
Geis earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Meteorology from the
University of Wisconsin, a Masters of Political Science Degree from
Auburn University, and a Masters of Strategic Studies Degree from the
Air War College.

vi… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
Preface & Acknowledgements

In 1996, I had the privilege of participating in a major study effort,
requested by General Ronald Fogleman, to look 30 years into the future.
Under the leadership of Lieutenant General Jay Kelley, I had a chance to
interact with some of the brightest minds and most forward thinkers of this
age. The list included Dr. Norman Augustine, President of Lockheed
Martin; Alvin Toffler; James Cameron, who later directed the movie
Titanic; Burt Rutan; General Bernard Schriever; Admiral Bobby Inman;
Dr. Gene McCall, then Chairman of the AF Scientific Advisory Board;
and Dr. Dan Hastings, who is now Chairman of that same board. These,
and roughly 100 others of similar status, taught me and nearly 200 other
volunteers in the Air Force 2025 Study, a little about how to look ahead
and understand the technological revolutions that will shape our future.
To them, and many who remain unnamed here, I will be forever grateful.
This paper is an outgrowth, or perhaps an aftereffect, of that study.
My interest in directed energy began in earnest back in 1996 as I was
researching and writing the monograph, The Alternate Futures for 2025.
In 2001, I devoted part of my Air War College year toward an attempt to
discern what directed energy technologies might mean on a future
battlefield. I am very appreciative of the assistance provided by Drs.
Harro Ackerman, Vern Schlie, and Bob Duffner, of the Air Force
Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate, who helped me
understand a truly phenomenal amount of work, which spans four decades,
and brings us to where we are today. Dr. Grant Hammond, Colonel
(retired), Ted Hailes, and Lieutenant Colonel Courtney Holmberg, all who
work in this Center, helped me better formulate and phrase the ideas I had.
I am also thankful for the efforts of Air University’s Hyla Pearson and the
Public Affairs office in the Air Force Secretariat, for their hard work in
ensuring I didn’t break any rules in writing this paper. Still, few papers
are perfect, and the fault for any errors, remains my own.
Most importantly, I thank my wife, Pier, and daughter Francesca,
for their patience, and support for all the writing, trips, and interviews that
kept me away from home.


Several nations are engaging in development and production of
directed energy weapons. Recent scientific advances now enable the
production of lethal lasers and high-powered microwaves. The current
growth and development in this emerging area strongly suggests that
directed energy weapons of lethal power will reach the battlefield before
2010. Since proliferation of lower power laser weapons has already
happened, it is likely that proliferation of high power or high energy
weapons will occur as well. This paper expands on this development and
posits potential impacts on a plausible future battlefield, developed in part
from the Alternate Futures of AF 2025, where all comers deploy lethal
directed energy technologies. From these impacts, which span doctrine,
organization, force structure, and systems design, this paper recommends
changes to better posture the United States for this potential future.


viii… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…1
I. Introduction

Directed energy technologies are not new. Laser research began in
earnest in the United States during the space race of the 1960s, and
research in microwave physics can be traced back to the atomic energy
program in the late 1930s.1 What is new is the power and energy output
levels being achieved by devices in our laboratories and in the field.
Recent developments include megawatt-class (millions of watts)
continuous wave lasers that have shot down aerospace vehicles, and a
system of lasers at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories that combine to
produce a very short laser pulse with a peak power output of five
quadrillion (5,000,000,000,000,000) watts.2 As the output of directed
energy sources continues to increase, so does the potential for desirable
battlefield effects. Within the next twenty to thirty years, laser and
microwave weapons will place surface, airborne, and space forces at
increased risk at greater distances. Lethal ranges for these new weapons
will increase to hundreds of kilometers. As a result, laser blinding will
rapidly become the least of our directed energy force protection worries.
The purpose of this paper is straightforward and simple: to
establish a vision for how directed energy weapons could revolutionize
military affairs in the future. To achieve this, the paper will first describe
the developments in directed energy technologies that have led us to the
crossroads at which we now stand. Specifically, it will examine the
development of four types of directed energy technologies: continuous
wave lasers, pulsed lasers, continuous wave high power microwaves, and
pulsed microwaves. This paper will also examine the trends in the
proliferation of these technologies to postulate where the future may lead.
From these trends, the paper will examine the battlefield of the future,
where the likely impacts of directed energy weapons will be explored.
From these impacts it will be clear that changes to our doctrine and
equipment will be required to maintain a viable expeditionary force.
Many of these changes will be time consuming, difficult, and expensive.
Lastly, this paper will offer recommendations as to how the Department of
Defense and the Air Force can better position our nation to be ready for
the future.

2… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…3
II. Directed Energy Technologies

Continuous Wave Lasers

Dr. Charles Townes of Columbia University pioneered Microwave
Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (MASERs) in the mid
1950s. Over the next several years, he worked to extend his MASER
concept to the optical regime to generate visible and near-visible radiation.
Dr. Townes’ work laid the foundation for the creation of the first ruby
crystal laser in 1960 by Dr. Theodore Maiman of the Hughes Research
In his position as Director of Research at the Institute of Defense
Analysis, Dr. Townes strongly advocated military research on lasers with
the eventual purpose of weaponization. In spite of his unwavering
support, he also cautioned that considerable basic research was needed to
fully understand the fundamental principles of laser physics before
operational systems could be produced. Following Townes’
recommendations, the Air Force took the lead in laser research during the
1960s under the auspices of the Air Force Special Weapons Center
(AFSWC). In 1962, AFSWC obtained funding from the DOD’s
Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) to begin investigating the
vulnerability of military systems to laser radiation and to begin laser
device development. The Air Force eventually transferred most of the
basic research on lasers from AFSWC to the newly formed Air Force
Weapons Laboratory (AFWL). Over the next decade and a half, Air Force
laser research efforts focused on the development of laser devices and
optical components, including efforts to increase output power, efficiency,
and beam quality. By 1966, AFWL researchers had successfully
demonstrated a carbon-dioxide (CO2) gas dynamic laser (GDL) with an
output power between 500 and 700 watts. In 1968, a follow-on
Experimental Laser Device produced an output beam of 77,000 watts,
which reinforced the idea that laser technology could eventually be fielded
on airborne systems.4 Hence, the quest for laser weapons charged
In 1969, as a result of the early successes in GDLs, the U.S.
government made a major commitment to build a one-megawatt (1-MW,
or 1,000,000 watts) device by the end of 1971.5 While the project

4… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
encountered delays, the laser was eventually finished in 1972 with a
demonstrated output power of 0.5 MW. Initially, beam control difficulties
resulted in an inability to optimally concentrate the energy on a spot of
small size.6 While these beam control problems were solved, some of the
early high energy lasers encountered engineering challenges associated
with power output damaging some internal components. In spite of these
challenges, by 1975, several high power lasers had been successfully
demonstrated. Pratt and Whitney had developed a GDL with an output
power of 500kW (500,000 watts) in 1972, and Northrop developed a laser
with between 0.5-1.0 MW of power.7
Meanwhile, new experimental efforts to track moving targets had
begun. A proof-of-concept demonstration called Project DELTA (Drone
Experimental Laser Test & Assessment) integrated Air Force Laser 1, an
experimental gas dynamic laser, with a pointing and focusing system.
Project DELTA achieved a spectacular success on 14 Nov 1973 when the
laser system tracked, engaged, and successfully disabled an aerial drone at
the Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland AFB, NM. This achievement
resulted in the transition of this technology to the Airborne Laser
Laboratory (ALL) onboard an extensively modified NKC-135.
The ALL was built to prove the physics and lethality of lasers in an
airborne environment. Equipped with a 400 kW CO2 GDL, it would
demonstrate the potential for directed energy weapons in airborne combat.
In May 1983, the ALL acquired, tracked and disabled five Sidewinder air-
to-air missiles. That fall, the ALL intercepted three ground-launched
Navy drones flying low-altitude profiles over the Pacific Ocean.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, attention gradually shifted to
other devices including hydrogen-fluoride/deuterium-fluoride-based
(HF/DF) systems. In 1984, the HF/DF lasers produced a 1MW beam, but
like early attempts with CO2 lasers, the beam quality at high power levels
was not optimal.8 Development of these systems continued, and in 1988,
a new megawatt-class HF/DF laser was successfully tested at White Sands
Missile Range in New Mexico.
A second set of lasers was also developed in the late 1970s. In
1977, researchers at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory discovered the
Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL). This new type of laser substituted
a chemical pumping scheme for the more traditional method of optical
pumping with flash lamps to excite the lasing species to the meta-stable
energy levels required for lasing. This new method proved to be
significantly more efficient than flash-lamp pumping and dramatically

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…5
increased laser efficiency. By 1988, AF scientists had achieved an output
of 35,000 watts using a supersonic flow technique. The success of COIL
laser technology led to its selection for integration into the Air Force’s
Airborne Laser (ABL) Program platform, where multiple 100kW-class
COIL laser modules will be combined to create an airborne, megawatt-
class chemical laser for theater ballistic missile defense. By 1999, COIL
technology had advanced to the point that Boeing had proposed a 100-
kW-class laser system for the V-22 Osprey.9 Also in 1999, TRW, Inc.,
had completed testing of one of the Airborne Laser’s modules, a multi-
hundred kilowatt laser that is the foundation for the multi-megawatt full
power demonstration to take place in 2005.10
While the power outputs of these devices certainly seem large,
they are meaningless unless one can describe their effects. The effects of
a continuous wave laser on a target are based on the amount of energy the
laser deposits onto the target. The deposited energy is a function of the
output power of the laser, the length of time the laser power is incident on
the target, a transmission number to account for losses between the source
and the target, and the spot size of the laser spot on the target. The energy
delivered to a target is determined by the following equation: F = P t
L/A. F is the energy deposited in Joules per square centimeter; P is the
laser output power in watts (or Joules per second); t is the duration of the
laser pulse in seconds; L is a dimensionless transmission number which
delineates the percentage of the laser output that actually reaches the target
(often called the Strehl number); and A is the laser spot size on the target.
To destroy soft targets (human flesh, fabrics, plastics, etc…)
approximately 1000 Joules per square centimeter are required. Extremely
hard targets such as tanks might require 100,000 Joules per square
centimeter.11 Thus, a 25kW laser with a two-second pulse length and a
five-centimeter spot size could kill a person, break an aircraft canopy, or
ignite fabrics and materials at distances where transmission is only forty
percent effective. The current state-of-the-art high energy lasers described
above can maintain this forty percent effectiveness over distances of
twenty to forty kilometers. The ABL’s multi-megawatt systems are
advertised as being able to destroy missiles at distances of over 200
nautical miles (370 km).12 Based on the American Physical Society
analysis above, at close ranges, the ABL’s laser would be capable of
destroying hard targets.

6… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Pulsed Lasers

In contrast to continuous wave laser devices that produce
continuous beams of light, physicists have developed a class of laser
systems that produce laser energy in short bursts. For the purposes of this
paper, pulsed lasers are defined as those devices that produce less than 0.1
second of laser dwell time before cessation of lasing to produce the next
pulse. Some pulsed lasers now in operation produce very short pulses that
are on the order of a few hundred quadrillionths of a second.13 This is
accomplished by compressing the original laser beam via diffraction,
reflection, or other methods to cause parts of the original laser beam to
travel different distances. These distances are chosen such that all of the
original beam energy can be combined and focused at a fixed point at the
same time.14 This results in a pulse that can have many times the peak
power output of the continuous wave laser. The process results in a loss
of energy in the beam splitting and recombining processes, thus reducing
the “average laser output” (an average over time that includes the null
periods between pulses). While pulsed lasers can burn through materials,
the rate at which they do so is based on their average power output. Since
the average output of a pulsed laser is less than the continuous wave
system due to losses in creating the pulse, this is generally not an optimum
use for pulsed lasers unless the pulsing offers other advantages such as
minimizing thermal blooming, or laser beam distortion and expansion due
to rapid heating of the atmosphere along the path of the laser beam.
Pulsed lasers can create a unique series of effects caused by the
impact of the short-duration high-intensity pulses. The magnitude of these
pulses can be impressive. For example, in 1995, a tabletop laser at
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had a pulsed output of 100
trillion watts. While each pulse was extremely short, each pulse had a
peak power output that was twenty times greater than the entire
instantaneous electrical generation capacity of the United States of
America.15 The beamlets from this laser, only 400 quadrillionths of a
second in duration, act as powerful battering rams when projected against
a structure or material. These pulses drive an ultrahigh-pressure shock
wave into the material that can cause material failure through fracturing at
the atomic level.16 The magnitude of these shocks is extreme. Tests using
smaller devices in 1966 and 1987 yielded point impulse shock pressures

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…7
on the order of a few megabars (a few million times atmospheric
pressure),17 which would be equivalent to over 20 million pounds per
square inch.18 Pulsed lasers have also been shown to have considerable
ablation properties, which may be helpful in producing structural failures.
As the laser pulse impacts the material, it hits with sufficient force to strip
away molecules and atoms at the point of impact. While each pulse may
not remove a huge number of molecules, some short-pulsed lasers can
deliver well over one million pulses per second, which can cause
considerable ablation of material in a short time.19
Because of the extreme intensity of their beams, pulsed lasers can
also produce a superheated region of gas, or plasma, at the point of
impact.20 Since lasers can be used to create these plasmas at pre-
designated points, these effects may have operational utility. In some
cases, these laser-induced plasmas may be extremely bright, and this
phenomenon may be able to temporarily blind or dazzle optical sensors.
The extreme temperatures within the plasma and its effects on the
chemical composition of the air in and near the plasma may affect
engines.21 While this author has been unable to find definitive information
on the subject, it certainly seems plausible that the ingestion of plasma at
several thousand degrees Fahrenheit could potentially disrupt engine
function in aircraft, missiles, and unmanned vehicles.
Thus, while pulsed lasers may not burn through materials as well
as their continuous wave counterparts, they have a number of unique
characteristics that may give them military utility in the future.

High Power Microwaves

A variety of sources, including radio frequency oscillators;
magnetrons; fast, high power electrical switches; and even nuclear weapon
bursts generate microwave radiation. We encounter microwave energy in
many varieties every day: radio stations in the FM and Citizen’s Bands,
airport air traffic control radio detection and ranging (RADAR)
equipment, and the ever-popular kitchen appliance that heats the average
hot dog in about twenty seconds. The effects that microwave energy has
on materials vary dramatically depending upon the characteristics of the
materials as well as the power level, pulse length, pulse repetition
frequency for pulsed systems, and the frequency of the microwave
radiation. This is why an 800-watt (illegal) Citizen’s Band radio booster

8… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
amplifier at 20 MHz is harmless, but watching one’s dinner cook from
inside an 800-watt (typical) microwave oven would be fatal.22
While lasers generate tightly focused beams of monochromatic
(single frequency) photon energy in the visible and infrared region of the
electromagnetic spectrum, high power microwave (HPM) devices generate
much less focused beams of energy in the radio frequency range of the
electromagnetic spectrum, which spans from around 1 megahertz to
around 100 gigahertz.23 Additionally, the frequency content, or
bandwidth, of microwave signals can vary significantly. Narrow band
systems emit all their energy within a few tenths of one percent of a
central frequency. Wideband and ultra-wideband (UWB) systems can
have their energy spread across a spectrum that is as much as twenty-five
percent or more of the center frequency. High-altitude nuclear-burst-
generated electromagnetic pulses (EMP) may spread across many decades
of bandwidth within the microwave range. However, it should be noted
that high-altitude nuclear EMP does not have significant energy in
frequencies above a few tens of megahertz, whereas narrow band HPM
spectra are typically in the few gigahertz to tens of gigahertz range and
UWB spectra may contain energy in the frequency range from hundreds of
megahertz to a few gigahertz.24 Unlike lasers that operate in the visible
and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, the atmosphere,
clouds, or moisture do not significantly affect the propagation of
microwave frequencies; thus, microwave weapons can provide all-weather
capability.25 The next three sections will examine pulsed microwave
radiation from both nuclear and non-nuclear sources as well as continuous
wave microwave radiation. The effects that both pulsed and continuous
wave microwave energy can generate will also be discussed.

Electromagnetic Pulses

An extremely powerful variant of pulsed electromagnetic energy
that results from a nuclear weapon detonation is know as electromagnetic
pulse, or EMP. The bandwidth of a nuclear EMP signal is extremely
wide, ranging from tens of hertz up through tens of megahertz.
Additionally, as one might expect, the peak electric field strength of a
nuclear-generated EMP can be exceptionally high.26 Serious study of the
effects generated by EMP began in a series of nuclear tests conducted at
Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1962.27 Shortly after the Soviet

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…9
Union breached a nuclear testing moratorium, the United States detonated
a 1.4-megaton nuclear bomb 400 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean
approximately 1300 kilometers from the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.28 The
experiment was code-named STARFISH. During the experiment, several
unusual events happened in Hawaii. Radio stations were shut down, street
lighting systems became inoperative due to burned out fuses, cars stopped
working due to burned out alternators and generators, and some telephone
systems failed. Not every phone, streetlight and car was affected, but
these effects were felt as far as 1000 miles from the detonation site.29
While the cause of the widespread disruption was not immediately
apparent, over the next two years researchers discovered that the test and
these events were somehow linked, and that a yet unknown property of the
electromagnetic energy emanating from the blast had wide ranging and
potentially useful military effects.30
As both the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to realize the
implications of detonating nuclear weapons in space, they drafted the
Treaty on Principals Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration
and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
In this treaty, now with over ninety-five signatories, the deployment of
nuclear weapons in space was banned.31
Still, in their search for asymmetric advantages against the United
States, some nations may be willing to violate the Outer Space Treaty
above. Senior members of the Russian government have openly admitted
to exploring the implications of nuclear detonations in the upper
atmosphere or outer space over the United States in the event of war.32
Writings by two senior Chinese Colonels at one of China’s military senior
service schools talk plainly of “Unrestricted Warfare,” where, if China
faced the U.S. in war, they would seek major asymmetric advantages and
not confine the conflict to effects on military forces.33
The EMP effects created by a nuclear detonation over the center of
the North American continent could be very serious. A multi-megaton
weapon exploding over the central United States would spread a peak
electrical field of twelve to twenty-five kilovolts per meter over the area
within line of sight (from coast to coast) of the nuclear detonation with
considerable impact.34 To put this into perspective, electrical field
strengths of three to eight kilovolts per meter can cause temporary upset of
commercial off-the-shelf equipment, requiring rebooting computer
systems to bring them back on line.35 At field strengths above eight
kilovolts such upsets become probable. Field strengths between seven and

10… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
twenty kilovolts per meter will cause some equipment to be damaged,
requiring component repair or replacement before systems can operate
again. Above twenty kilovolts per meter this kind of damage becomes
probable.36 These effects would be experienced by ground and satellite
based systems alike.37 The potential effect of such a detonation has been
likened to taking the entire nation and transporting it back in time to the
1890s.38 The burst of electromagnetic radiation could cause motor
vehicles, telecommunications, radio, television, computers, water and
sewer systems, and electrical generators to all stop working. While such
predictions may seem extreme, and while several government agencies
have offered more optimistic predictions, these optimistic predictions have
been openly discredited due to several methodological flaws in their
testing and evaluation procedures.39
Even more disconcerting, steps taken by various agencies to
protect themselves from interference by relatively innocuous devices
suggest the actual threat may be quite severe. For example, `we make
passengers on aircraft, during takeoff and landing, turn off radios, games,
and other electronic devices. Hospitals regularly place signs that
electronic devices are not allowed. Many do not want you using your
cellular telephones near their computer. Many repair shops require that
wristbands attached to the ground be used when opening electronic
equipment for repair.’40 In the end, while the exact effects of these pulsed
microwaves may in some cases be classified, and in others unknowable,
the precautions several industries take against very small emissions
suggest the vulnerability to our national infrastructure may indeed be
Worse yet, if the U.S. were attacked, the system failures will
likely compound each other. For example, if the electrical system
repairmen cannot travel to the damage site because their vehicles are
inoperative, and cannot get their vehicles repaired because the local repair
shop has neither electrical power nor the phone service to order spare
parts, then serious delays will result. The problem is further compounded
with the electrical repairmen not even knowing a repair is needed because
they are unable to communicate with their command center. Thus, the
whole recovery process greatly bogs down and becomes slower still. If
this problem is expanded to cover nearly an entire continent, then the
recovery pace from such an event might best be described as glacial.41

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…11

Pulsed Microwaves

Admittedly, the preceding discussion focuses heavily on the
probable nationwide disruption resulting from a (hopefully unlikely) high-
altitude nuclear burst EMP. However, the adverse effects caused on
electronic equipment by microwave radiation are not unique to nuclear
EMP. Air Force laboratories have made substantial progress in
developing microwave sources and antennas that are powered by much
more mundane power systems than nuclear explosions. Currently
available laboratory sources can produce one gigawatt of power for a few
nanoseconds from a source weighing only forty-five pounds. A slightly
larger 400-pound source can produce 20 gigawatts of power for the same
few nanoseconds.42 By comparison, the total power production output of
the Hoover Dam is only 2 gigawatts.43 These microwave systems can
affect electronics in much the same way as described in the EMP
discussion above, albeit their effects are significantly more localized.
Unfortunately, the technical expertise and vast resources of U.S.
military laboratories are not necessarily required to develop effective
microwave weapons. For example, according to some sources, relatively
small devices can be built by individuals using parts available at
commercial stores or through mail order, placed in a van, and be capable
of effecting buildings across a street.44 A small suitcase bomb, which
destroys all computers within the radius of its “detonation,” has been built
in Russia and reportedly has been sold to the Australian military. The
price was around $100,000.45 These devices can produce electrical field
strengths of up to 100 kilovolts per meter with a tunable pulse rate to
ensure maximum effect on the target.46 If the claims made by the
designers of such devices are even partially accurate, these systems are
capable of disabling electronics over predetermined areas, and U.S.
systems are currently vulnerable.

Continuous Wave Microwaves

Most people are familiar with the most common effect of
continuous wave microwaves. It heats their foods. This heating is due to
the microwave energy exciting the water molecules within the food
causing its internal temperature to warm. From a physics standpoint, there

12… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
is nothing to prevent microwaves being used on living tissue, and research
on the biological effects of these waves has been conducted for the past
seventy years.47
The initial research into the effects of microwaves on living tissue
began in 1931 with experiments examining the capacity of radio waves to
induce unusual rhythms into the heart.48 By the mid 1940s, research
expanded to examine possible relationships between microwaves and the
unusual incidence of cataracts in the eyes of personnel who worked in the
microwave industry.49 By 1957, the scope of research expanded further as
scientists probed the death of a young military member who died from an
apparent overexposure to radar energy.50 Research on effects of large
doses of microwaves on various human organs continued through the
1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The exposure of Moscow-based U.S. Embassy
personnel to low levels of microwave radiation in the 1970s fostered a
new round of research. Scientists began examining the long-term effects
of low-level microwave exposure. This research continued to expand, and
as of today, there are at least 957 separate open-source research
publications on the medical and biological effects of microwave
Throughout this research, scientists have demonstrated a myriad of
microwave effects among which are biological changes on the cellular
level, changes in brain chemistry and function, changes in cardiovascular
function, creation of lesions within the eye, temporary incapacitation, and
even death.52 Early research in microwaves also showed that low dosages
over long periods could cause changes in the formation of cells in lung
tissue and decreasing lung function;53 changes in calcium ions affecting
brain and cell function;54 changes in blood chemistry;55 changes in
immune system function, some favorable and others adverse;56 and
increases in histamine production.57 In addition, microwaves have been
able to produce performance-degrading effects. For example, microwaves
have been able to turn alpha waves into beta waves in the brains of some
animals, and a recent Pentagon briefing indicated that effects such as using
electromagnetic waves to put humans to sleep or heat them up have been
explored.58 This research seems to have been confirmed by the Marine
Corps Electromagnetic Weapons Project in the early 1980s, which
discovered that electromagnetic radiation could be used to cause mammals
to release eighty percent of the natural opioids in their brains, placing
animals in a stupor.59 Substantial research has been conducted into the
pain-inducing effects of heating the outermost epidermal layers, and the

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…13
U.S. Marine Corps has conducted area denial demonstrations with this
Lethal effects are also possible. The Washington Post reported in
1987 that the Soviet Union had used radio wave weapons to kill goats at a
range of one kilometer.61 Research conducted at the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory was conducted on an electromagnetic gun what would “induce
epileptic-like seizures.”62 Another was a “thermal gun what would have
the operational effect of heating the body to 105 to 107” degrees
Fahrenheit. Such effects would bring on discomfort, fevers, or even
death.63 The Russians may have even been able to use electromagnetic
energy to create a “voice of God” effect.64 If true, microwave energy may
have uses in the information operations realm as well.
What is even more interesting are the power levels needed to
create these potentially debilitating effects. Research by French physicist
Jacques Thuery suggests that many of the uses mentioned above can be
conducted with only a few milliwatts of energy per square centimeter on
target. Even the most extreme uses involved energy of only around 550
milliwatts (slightly more than ½ watt) per square centimeter.65 These
energy levels are important when compared with the power generation
capabilities mentioned above. As a result, continuous-wave radio
weapons (microwaves) may have significant military uses as we move into
the 21st Century.

14… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…15
III. Future Developments in Directed Energy

The most effective way to cope with change is to help
create it.

–L. W. Lynett

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to
win or lose.

–Lyndon B. Johnson

Futurists tell us that there are three basic ways to attempt to
determine the future. One is to find a highly regarded expert and have him
or her predict the future. The second is to use trend extrapolation. This is
often used in science where one extrapolates from past developments to
predict the future. Moore’s Law of computer chip speed is an example.
The last method is to use alternative futures.66
As stated earlier, the purpose of this paper is to take a realistic look
at what impacts directed energy might have on the battlefields of the
future. As a result, using an alternative futures methodology to predict
scientific advancement is unnecessarily cumbersome. The futures would
bound the problem, but the purpose here is not to look at the extreme
possibilities but to examine mainstream probabilities. Thus, this section
will draw upon the expert testimony in part two, and will generally
extrapolate the trends in directed energy developments to posit a state of
technology likely to exist in the 2020-2030 timeframe.67

Continuous Wave Lasers

Figure 1 details the development of laser power of operational in-
the-field devices over the past 30 years. As the chart shows, initial growth
in power output was rapid and exponential. The curve has flattened
somewhat in recent years. Still, extrapolating these trends to the 2025
timeframe suggests the state of technology will allow deployment of lasers
in the five to ten megawatt (MW) range. From these trends, this paper

16… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
posits that the technology will exist to field tactically significant lasers on
small to medium sized aircraft, and on large ground vehicles by 2025.
Larger devices, perhaps exceeding 10 MW, will likely be fielded as fixed
ground stations. The effects of such devices would yield fighter aircraft
laser systems capable of destroying hardened vehicles at short ranges,
destroying surface-to-air missile sites at extended ranges, and destroying
enemy fighter aircraft at ranges well beyond 100 kilometers.68 The more
powerful surface-based systems would have the capability to engage
airborne targets at ranges beyond that of the Airborne Laser, and at
approximately ten times greater range than the airborne systems
mentioned above. These fixed systems will have two advantages in terms
of scaling for greater power. They will not need to be miniaturized to fly,
and they will be less limited on the amount of chemical or electrical power
they to which they will have access.

Laser Power Output over Time
Continuous Wave Laser Power Development Over Time - 2025 Extrapolated
Figure 1: Continuous Wave Laser Power Development Over Time
(2025 Extrapolated) 69

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…17
Pulsed Laser Power Output over Time

Pulsed Laser Power Output Over Time - 2020 Data Extrapolated
Figure 2 Pulsed Laser Power Output Over Time (2020 Data
Pulsed Lasers

Like their continuous wave cousins, pulsed lasers have also
increased exponentially in power over the past thirty years. Since no
weaponization has yet occurred with this type of laser, it is difficult to
reasonably extrapolate trends for the future. This paper posits that
derivatives from the current level of technology in the laboratory will
make it to the field in the next twenty years.71 Terawatt-class devices
may be flying on fighter-like aircraft in the 2020-2030 timeframe.72 Due
to weight and size constraints, it seems likely that multi-Petawatt pulsed
devices will be relegated to ground stations. Still, as the figure below
indicates, extremely powerful devices are likely in this timeframe,
providing significant military utility. For example, the Lawrence-
Livermore 5-petawatt device was capable of generating temperatures at
the impact point of several million degrees. Plasma creation, ablation
through significant metal thickness, and some all weather capability
become possible with lasers of this power.73

18… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Continuous High Power Microwaves

Microwave effects differ from lasers because the effect on the
target is only partially dependent on the power output of the microwave
device. With microwaves, the specific frequency, bandwidth, and
transmission device all have direct bearing on the effects sustained at the
target. Nonetheless, power output capability for future microwave
weapons will increase in much the same way as the laser devices already
explored. With this power production and improved portability,
microwaves will enable a very different set of effects-based operations on
future battlefields.
As was discussed earlier, continuous wave microwaves can have a
variety of potential effects ranging from an intense sensation of heat on a
person’s skin, to causing incapacitation, to even causing death. The Air
Force Research Laboratory has weaponized such a system for non-lethal
effects, and it is being tested in conjunction with the Joint Non-Lethal
Weapons Directorate.74 This paper posits that the development of
microwave weapons will continue in the next twenty to twenty-five years.
If the United States fails to lead this change, it may be forced to follow the
lead of other developed nations.
In the future, continuous wave microwave devices will likely find
uses for area denial, force protection, or for non-lethal incapacitation of
forces minimizing loss of life.75 It is likely this technology will also be
developed as a lethal weapon in the form of a “death beam” type device.
The wide beam-width of microwave transmission systems, which for some
systems are measured in tens of degrees, will enable these effects to
become widespread potentially covering large sections of the battlefield.76
Thus, microwaves can be viewed as an area weapon. As a result, a
different thought process must be used in choosing target sets and setting
objectives. Used defensively, the nature of microwaves may reduce the
importance of the element of surprise and/or the value of some stealth

Pulsed Microwaves

In addition to being broadcast as a continuous beam, microwaves
can be emitted in short pulses or bursts of short pulses. These pulsed

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…19
microwave devices in future warfare will likely come in two basic forms:
nuclear driven EMP weapons and conventionally driven pulsed devices.
Nuclear device driven EMP waves will likely change relatively
little over the next twenty years. Limitations such as the nuclear test ban
treaties will certainly hinder revolutionary advances in this area.77 Still, as
was shown in part two, peak electric fields of twelve to twenty-five
kilovolts per meter will be possible within line of sight of any nuclear
detonation. This includes space. Should an adversary launch such an
attack, non-EMP hardened electronics would likely be destroyed in an
area covering between one million and several million square miles, with
severe damage possible out to 1000 miles.78
Conventionally driven high power microwave sources will also
have a significant effect on future battlefields. These weapons will have
long reach, deep magazines, and will be of scalable size. While larger
devices will be mounted on ground or air vehicles, some smaller devices
will be hand held.79 The larger vehicle mounted devices may be capable
of interdicting over 100 targets per mission. Further, these weapons will
likely have considerable reach. It is not unreasonable, “that a single high
power microwave weapon could destroy the entire air defense system,”
and have a similar impact on the entire command and control network,
possibly eliminating the ability to manage military assets.80 While it is
possible to defend against such attack, it is currently very difficult and
quite expensive to harden systems and facilities against microwave attack.
Another area in which additional advancements may occur in
pulsed microwave technologies is in the use of wideband pulses. Many
microwave and radio transmitters today broadcast on a single carrier
frequency, or in only a limited set of frequencies. This has led to
programs hardening systems against pulses of a specific frequency. The
enhancement of wideband microwave pulse technology will enable the
destruction or disabling of those systems hardened against only parts of
the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus, only those devices hardened against
the entire electromagnetic spectrum will likely survive wideband
microwave pulses.81
The real question is what all these technological developments
mean for future warfare. To try to answer this question as completely as
possible, we will look at a future scenario in the 2020-2030 timeframe.

20… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…21
IV. The Persian Gulf War of 2025

A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.
–Oliver Wendell Holmes

The following scenario is for illustrative purposes only. It is
designed to raise some of the doctrinal, strategic planning, and operational
issues that directed energy weapons will pose. To posit the U.S. as the
only owner of these weapons produces a rather uninteresting scenario of
rapid U.S. victory. The key challenges to our future warfighting capability
will occur when our opponents also possess modern weapons, and when
the U.S. is responding in an expeditionary mode. This future picture is
murkier, and the outcome is much less certain. The following scenario
uses real places, and in some cases real people; however, it is not a
prediction of what will happen, only a plausible future of what might
happen.82 It has its roots in two alternate futures from the Chief of Staff-
directed study, Air Force 2025, specifically the worlds of “2015
Crossroads,” and “King Khan.”83

The Rise of China

What was called the American century has given way to the Asian
Millennium.84 The economies of South East Asia became progressively
more intertwined in the early years of the twenty-first century. By the
year 2000, over seventy percent of the wealth of Indonesia, Malaysia,
Thailand, and Singapore was in the hands of ethnic Chinese.85 The trade
between the Chinese in the area and the mainland helped the mainland
economy grow rapidly.86 In late 2000, many estimated the Chinese gross
domestic product to be in the neighborhood of $5.6 trillion, with annual
trade with the U.S. at over $58 billion.87 After the economic slowdown in
2002-2004, China’s economy continued to grow at around 8 percent per
year, and passed the U.S. economy in total size by 2011.88 By 2012,
Chinese GDP passed $12 trillion on its way to the $29 trillion mark in
2025, the same year the United States economy crossed the $18 trillion

22… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
This robust economic expansion paved the way for China to
modernize its military. China increased military spending over 200
percent between 1988 and 1995, and although the pace of growth has
slowed somewhat, China’s defense spending continues to increase.90
China began a restructuring of its military in the late 1990s and continued
this during the decade that followed. China began to change a mammoth
military equipped with aging and dilapidated equipment into a smaller but
more capable force.91 China purchased Sovremenny-class destroyers in
the late 1990s,92 and began construction of its first aircraft carrier in 2006.
The construction of the carrier proved more difficult than expected, and
the carrier and its attendant aviation wing were not completed until 2012.
Seeking to bolster its force projection capability, China embarked on a
program to build a new group every four years until it had seven carrier
groups in its fleet. By 2025, four carrier battle groups were in operation.
China was also concerned about its ability to project ground forces. A
program to build new amphibious vessels was begun in 2005. Today, in
2025, China has sufficient sealift to land three divisions ashore at a point
of its choosing.
Well aware of the value of asymmetric weapons, China began
investing in directed energy weapons in the late twentieth century. By
2025, China had equipped her naval vessels with 50 TW pulsed laser
cannons; pulsed microwave beams capable of inducing kilovolt electric
fields in unprotected circuitry at distances of several tens of miles, and
continuous wave microwave devices for point defense, area denial, and
adversary troop incapacitation. Airborne laser systems, while less
powerful, were capable of destroying a tank at ten miles, and engaging an
adversary aircraft at more than 100 miles in clear weather. Microwave
defense shields were in place around all military assets, capable of
disintegrating the circuits of any guided weapon that approached within
ten kilometers.93 Aware of the impact of directed energy technologies,
and with asymmetric use of these technologies a central theme of their
defense plans, China maintains a redundant command and control system
with both digital and analog communications. Hardening against use of
these devices has been incorporated into all vessels and vehicles built
since 2012.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…23

The Rise of Iran

Iran began the twenty-first century in economic crisis. The
national GDP had been flat from 1997-1999, and international debt had
risen to over ten percent of GDP.94 As oil prices rose in the spring of
2000, Iran experienced a balance of payments influx that began to bolster
the economy at a rate of over five percent per year.95 Iran’s economy
remained tied to the fortunes of its oil exports, which served the nation
well over the period. Iran had over 105 billion barrels of crude oil
reserves with many regions of the nation unexplored at the beginning of
the century. This was in addition to owning nearly one seventh of the
world’s natural gas reserves–roughly one quadrillion cubic feet.96 As a
result of its vast oil wealth, Iran paid off its international debt by 2007, and
its economy continued to grow throughout the period. As the economies
of Asia grew stronger, and as their demand for oil became greater, trade
between Iran and China more than quadrupled in this period. Further, as
Iran fulfilled China’s need for oil, China acted as Iran’s primary supplier
for arms and a strategic partnership was formed.97
In 2025, Iran has a GDP of approximately $1.4 trillion (constant
2000 dollars), and a population approaching 120 million.98 It has an
armed force of over 450,000 with over 400 tanks, half equipped with
directed energy weapons, and 400 combat aircraft, including two wings of
recently acquired stealthy Chinese fighters. Iran has fielded a submarine
fleet of an estimated 100 vessels, several of which are capable of extended
silent running, and has constructed several ultra-high-energy laser and
high power microwave weapons on the islands in and on the mainland
around the Straits of Hormuz.99 These weapons have on-site generation
capability, and are tapped into the national power grid for augmentation.

The Theocratic Government of Saudi Arabia

The reign of King Fahd came to an end in late 2011 as a result of
an uprising by the religious clergy within the kingdom. Efforts by
CENTCOM Commander to maintain an American presence over the first
ten years of the century received support at home and were begrudgingly
accepted by King Abdullah as a continuing counterbalance to Iraq, and
later to Iran.100 The continued presence of Americans on what was

24… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
considered “Holy Ground” by most Muslims in the region continued the
downward trend of stability within the Saudi Kingdom.101 Feeling “more
is better” the plans to jointly exercise U.S. and Saudi forces developed by
the CENTCOM staff only exacerbated the problems.102 As a result,
uprisings began in 2012, which the Saudi military forces were hard-
pressed to control. In the end, the unwillingness of the Saudi army to kill
their countrymen and esteemed religious clerics resulted in the toppling of
the government in March 2013. The religious theocracy that came to
power requested all non-believers leave Saudi soil not later than October
of that year, and permanent American military presence came to an end.
While the Saudi economy remains intact, and the standard of living
continues to slowly improve for the Saudi people, American presence on
Saudi territory appears unwelcome unless Saudi Arabia faces imminent
invasion of their own territory.

The United States

The United States began the new century as the world’s one and
only superpower. The tax cut package implemented in 2002, combined
with increased military and homeland security spending, resulted in an end
of the budget surpluses that characterized the 1990s.103 Pro business
lobbying and a generally conservative congress resulted in no movement
within the U.S. in development of a national energy policy, or the
development of more energy efficient infrastructure. The U.S. ended the
year 2000 importing forty-nine percent of its domestic oil needs.104 It
enters 2025 importing more than sixty percent of the oil needed to run the
economy and fuel its cars, trucks, motorcycles, and aircraft.
The economy continued to grow throughout the period. The GDP
rose from just under $9 trillion in 2000 to a 2025 level of nearly $19
trillion.105 Despite the robust economy, a series of tax cuts kept federal
revenues relatively steady. Thus, while there was a recovery from the post
cold war military drawdown, this recovery has been slow. The U.S. enters
2025 with ten full aerospace expeditionary forces, which contain the F-22,
JSF, and more than twenty airborne laser attack platforms each.106 The
Army has succeeded in implementing much of the Joint Vision 2020
capabilities, but has only started the conversion to what was known in
2000 as the Army after Next. The Navy is back to thirteen carrier
battlegroups with each major combatant ship and submarine having high

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…25
energy laser and high power microwave weapons. Powered by nuclear
plants, the weapons on the aircraft carriers and submarines are on par with
larger fixed ground stations. Stealthy cruise missiles and stealthy aircraft
predominate the air component of each of the services.

The Trigger Events

Worldwide oil production finally plateaued in 2025, peaking at 118
million barrels per day.107 Global demand continued to increase, however,
and now stood at nearly 126 million barrels per day.108 The result was that
on February 1, 2025, oil hit a price of ninety dollars per barrel (constant
2000 dollars) and threatened to reach $130 by midyear.
The economies of the world’s great powers were greatly strained
with China and the United States facing the same basic problem. Both
desired continued unimpeded economic growth–China for stability; the
United States for prosperity.109 The Chinese leadership feared a breakup
and fragmentation of the country if cheap oil sources for their economy
could not be secured. The leadership decided to leverage its long-standing
relationship with Iran to further Chinese economic needs while providing
for the attainment of Iran’s long-term goal of becoming the Middle East’s
greatest regional power. Similarly, the United States sought to leverage its
alliances to maintain U.S. access to vital world oil supplies.
In early February, the Chinese Premier conducted a summit with
the Iranian President and the leading Iranian clergy to enlist their support
for continued Chinese economic growth. This summit included covert
discussions of Chinese support to an Iranian attempt to increase their
control over all oil flow in the Middle East. In return, Iran promised
China sufficient oil to maintain their economic growth. As the summit
concluded, three Chinese aircraft carrier battlegroups, nineteen major
amphibious troop carriers with over 20,000 combat troops, and over fifty
submarines began to steam toward the Straits of Hormuz.
On February 19, Iran announced that it would use all of its
resources to supply oil solely to China. World spot market oil prices rose
overnight by fifty dollars per barrel. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates
indicated they would sell only to the West on February 21. Iran responded
by seizing all islands in the Straits of Hormuz, and declaring that they
would exercise the rights to determine which vessels may pass through the
narrow straits, which they defined as the sovereign waters of Iran. Iran

26… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
immediately deployed its entire submarine fleet (estimated at 100 vessels),
and powered its directed energy network along its coastline.

U.S. Deployment

The President ordered a freedom of navigation exercise through
the Hormuz straits. The American aircraft carrier Independence sailed
through the straits the next day. The carrier was attacked by Iranian laser
stations, which destroyed the carrier’s laser emitter. The carrier also
sustained laser-induced gashes along the entire port side of the vessel.
The gash was thirteen inches wide and stretched from stem to stern only
fourteen inches above the water line. Minutes later, the Independence was
attached by at least six submarines. While the subs did not sink the vessel,
their torpedoes caused the carrier to take on water. As the carrier sank
further, water poured through the gash along the entire length of the
vessel. Four hours later, with its pumps unable to keep up with the flow of
water, the quick-thinking captain ran the carrier aground off the coast of
Oman to prevent the vessel from sinking. The carrier sat there, useless,
listing twenty-two degrees to port. Three other major combatants also
sustained severe laser induced damage and steamed out of the straits back
into the Gulf of Oman. Preparations were being made to tow these vessels
back to the U.S. for repair. In the aftermath, the American people and
congress reacted angrily. For the first time in nearly eighty-five years,
Congress declared war. Three nights later, special operations forces
attacked the Iranian laser station involved. In response, Iran and China
launched a massive search and destroy mission against all U.S. forces in
the Gulf region.
The Secretary of Defense issued deployment orders for the 9th and
10th AEFs to the region, and activated stages I and II of the Civil Reserve
Air Fleet. Within twenty-four hours, units from the 1st and 27th Fighter
Wings and the 92d Air Reserve Wing arrived in theater.110 Some bases in
the region were deemed unusable due to the extended reach of the Iranian
laser weapons. All facilities within seventy miles of these sites were
determined to be at unacceptable risk.111 The Saudi government denied
other bases, as they did not perceive a threat to their sovereignty.
Unaware of any threats near the bases, the heavy airlift began to arrive in
theater. However, clandestine Iranian operatives used portable directed
energy weapons to cause one C-17s and two civil reserve air fleet aircraft

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…27
to crash while landing.112 The weapons were used to incinerate the pilots
and their clothing on short final, resulting in a loss of aircraft control. In
two cases, the aircraft crashed into parts of the base infrastructure. All
total, more than 700 Americans died on that day alone.113 Host nation
forces began to scour the countryside to find the Iranian operatives, but
were able to find only one team in the following three days. The U.S. was
faced with a difficult decision: whether to risk further deployments
without finding all the Iranian teams, or whether to place the time phased
force deployment on hold. Because the major airlines were not convinced
that their assets could be adequately protected, all withdrew their fleets
from the CRAF.114
The first aircraft and equipment arrived in Theater on February 27.
Before and during the deployment process, Iran and China launched
numerous stealth HPM UAVs that targeted each potential U.S.
deployment base and port with periodic HPM pulse bursts. Despite host-
nation attempts to fend these off, many of the microwave attacks were
successful. The attacks caused damage to commercial-off-the-shelf
computer equipment that now formed nearly every workstation used for
administrative functions, command, and control. Aircraft on the field and
near the aerodromes suffered damage as well, including two jets lost on
landing. Others suffered computer systems failures because they were hit
by the HPM pulses while taxiing after landing. In the end, much of the
U.S. equipment arrived in theater damaged, and substantial repair and
replacement of equipment was going to be necessary before an effective
command and control system would be established. Fully operable base
defenses including directed energy weapons finally put an end to the
microwave attacks on 7 Mar, and the CFACC’s command and control
network was repaired and operational one week later. As a partial solution
to the microwave attacks, the CFACC initiated setup of a laser based inter-
theater communications system.115

Employment ­ War

The CFACC ordered a naval cruise missile and UAV strike against
the Iranian defenses. Iranian laser weapons destroyed the high altitude
UAVs at a range of nearly seventy miles from their targets. Only a few
missiles penetrated the laser detection network.116 Pulsed HPM signals
emanating from Iranian installations caused over ninety percent of the

28… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
cruise missile systems that defeated the laser network to fail enroute to
their targets. While no casualties were sustained, only one major enemy
directed energy weapon site sustained damage. The AF was left in a
quandary as to how to engage fixed defenses whose firepower was in
excess of anything that could be carried in the air.
In retaliation for the CFACC attempted strike, Iran turned its lasers
skyward. As polar orbiting satellites passed within two degrees of latitude
and longitude of a fixed Iranian laser site, the weapon was used to disable
and destroy satellite components. In the first twenty-four hours, twelve
U.S. satellites were destroyed or had their optical sensors rendered
permanently inoperative. The U.S. president and secretary of defense
threatened an overwhelming response, but were initially at a loss as to
how to conduct it.
U.S. Special Forces were deployed to the theater in large numbers.
Assisted by groups of “indigenous warriors” special forces teams began
studying how to take down the Iranian integrated directed energy defense
While Iranian proxies opposed the deployment and continued to
conduct sporadic attacks, the Iranian forces made no further land
advances. Iranian directed energy weapons effectively closed the Straits
of Hormuz to all shipping not desired by Iran. The Navy regained
submaritime superiority in early May.
U.S. Navy Special Forces mounted a coordinated attack on the
Iranian coastal directed energy defenses. With air power unable to breach
the laser defenses just inland of the Iranian coastline, underwater vehicles
were used to insert Special Operations Forces. These teams targeted the
directed energy installations near the Straits of Hormuz for destruction.
The teams used portable HPM weapons to disrupt installation security
systems, and sensor networks, used portable infrared lasers to kill at
distances, and successfully breached the installations’ perimeters.118
Explosives were planted in each facility and were detonated by the
retreating teams. The teams believed all coastal installations were
destroyed. Destruction of laser batteries deep inside Iran using these
tactics was not possible due to the limited range of the Special Forces’
insertion vehicles. Despite the American victory, the spot market
continued to increase in price, and had doubled to $180 per barrel. The
U.S. tapped the strategic petroleum reserve, which kept the U.S. economy
afloat, but global stock markets were falling in the uncertain atmosphere.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…29
The deployment of forces continued for over two months. By
early May, the U.S. and China each had three carrier battle groups in the
region with the associated combat support vessels. The U.S. Air Force
had two AEF equivalents in theater, opposed by a recently modernized
Iranian Air Force, augmented by the Chinese, with a combined six fighter
wings of second-generation stealth aircraft. The Army had the 82d
Airborne Division, and one heavy division in theater with a sixty-day
supply of combat arms. The Marines had a single MEU-SOC off shore
being protected by one of the carrier battle groups. As of the fifteenth of
May, neither the U.S. nor Iran had any low earth orbiting space assets left
in service.
The CFACC’s first concern was gaining air supremacy. There
were two problems facing him. First, many of his fighter aircraft were
severely damaged in the Iranian microwave attacks during deployment,
resulting in an initial mission capable rate of less than fifty percent. In
many cases, avionics and flight control wiring and computer systems had
to be pulled and replaced. These repairs were not only manpower
intensive, but they required cannibalization of aircraft assigned to units not
deploying to provide the spare parts needed to return the two AEFs to
combat ready status. The second problem was how to attack the Iranian
interior defenses and the Iranian Air Force, when their ground systems had
a greater reach than the CFACC’s fighter resources.
This left the CFACC two options. Settle for temporary air
superiority when U.S. ground forces attempt landings, or engage in what
would likely be a very expensive war of attrition against the directed
energy systems of Iran. The CFACC opted initially to provide air
superiority over U.S. ground forces and not take on the entire Iranian
defense forces.
The next phase of the CFC’s plan involved taking Iranian island
and coastal territory to ensure the Straits of Hormuz were not threatened
by repaired Iranian defenses the Special Operations Forces destroyed. The
82d Airborne Division attempted a landing at Abu Musa and the MEU-
SOC attempted an amphibious landing at Salakh.119 The CFACC
provided fighter and Airborne Laser cover for the operation. As the C-
130s laden with the 82d Airborne troops approached Abu Musa, Iranian
ground forces equipped with transportable laser systems lased the cockpits
on approach. As with the initial deployment, two aircraft were downed on
final approach before the fighter cover could react. Lasers and kinetic kill
weapons were fired from the fighter cover, destroying the ground lasers as

30… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
they were detected. During this engagement, a squadron of Iranian fighter
aircraft also engaged friendly forces using laser and other devices. In the
end, the USAF downed twenty Iranian aircraft, but sustained the loss of
fourteen, including five C-130s.
Prior to the MEU-SOC landing, and unknown to the Americans,
the Iranian coastal defense authorities were able to get one laser defense
installation back on line on a hill near Bander-e-Dulub, slightly more than
twenty kilometers from the MEU-SOC landing site. As the landing force
came within firing distance, the Iranian Air Force engaged the remaining
protective air cover with lasers and beyond visual range missiles. Both
sides sustained heavy losses. As the landing force approached the shore,
the newly recommissioned laser battery fired on the remaining protective
air cover, downing several aircraft, which caused the others to scatter. It
then turned its firepower on the landing force. Within only a few minutes,
the MEU’s combat power was effectively neutralized. The Marine force
sustained nearly thirty percent casualties; many were vaporized or burned
beyond any hope of recognition. A hastily arranged strike by several
dozen missiles overwhelmed the site’s ability to defend itself and again
took the laser site out of commission. The Marines gathered their dead;
over 500 body bags were filled. More challenging for mortuary affairs
was what to do approximately 220 Marines who were killed but whose
disintegration left no remains.
In retaliation for the landing, the Iranian defense force launched a
300-kiloton nuclear weapon and detonated it approximately sixty-five
miles over Kuwait City.120 The detonation caused virtually no damage at
the surface and though a brief burst of neutron radiation was detectable, it
fell well below lethal limits. However, the detonation sent a current
through every electrical wire within several hundred miles of the
detonation site. Virtually every computer component within the Middle
East Theater that was not located in a hardened site was destroyed. The
Expeditionary Air Force units, who deployed to bare bases in tent like
facilities, suffered near total loss of all computer and communications
capabilities. Much of the theater command and control center was
effectively destroyed, though the laser piece of the communications
system remained operative. Most allied aircraft sustained damage to their
computer-controlled systems. More than seventy percent of the aircraft in
theater were non-mission capable, but due to the command and control
difficulties, the leadership in the U.S. remained unaware of the extent of
the problem for nearly a day.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…31
The U.S. responded with the Carrier Task Force from the Far East.
It arrived four days later and was able to launch retaliatory strikes on Iran.
Meanwhile, the Chinese carrier groups now also in the Middle East
launched attacks on the U.S. Carrier Groups, only to be shot down at great
range by the directed energy weapons on-board the U.S. ships.
The U.S. began with a nuclear EMP detonation over the center of
Iran, and then followed up the attack with a series of cruise missile attacks
on the directed energy installations.121 This attack was successful since
the Iranian systems were down due to the EMP strike. Air Force and
Naval fighter and attack assets then began a slow parallel takedown of the
Iranian electrical generation capacity, which was a key node in their
directed energy defenses. With Iran’s defensive directed energy
technologies now reduced, a parallel warfare program was launched
against the Iranian leadership and their communications, commensurate
with the available combat ready assets in theater.
In response to the U.S. attack, Iran and China began an all out
assault with what was left of their submarine fleet. This minor battle took
on a more traditional and conventional flavor. It took only three weeks for
the U.S. forces to locate and destroy the Iranian submarines. Before that
occurred, the Iranians and Chinese managed to sink four more surface
combatants and severely damage one more aircraft carrier. In the end, the
U.S. succeeded in eliminating the Iranian submarine threat and partly
reopened the Straits of Hormuz. By the end of July, over 35,000
Americans had died, and another 47,000 were injured. Worse, the major
shipping lanes were awash in obstacles as a result of the sinking of the
vessels. By this point, the American people were frustrated and the anti-
war protest movement was clearly gaining momentum. Material losses in
the Department of Defense had already exceeded $35 billion, operations
costs were over $90 billion, oil prices were still rising, and American
servicemen were coming home in body bags by the thousands.
During the submarine wars, Iran began to put its power generation
capacity back on line. They began in the Teheran region, but concealed
the actual status by leaving the power grid un-powered.122 With the two
laser batteries guarding the capital repaired, on September 2, the lights in
Teheran came back on. The Iranians used these batteries to keep enemy
aircraft from attacking within a seventy-mile radius of the capital. Near
the borders of this circle, the Iranian military constructed new laser
batteries, and extended the power supply system, gradually expanding the
area under the laser umbrella. While the CFACC attempted to attack these

32… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
batteries, bi-static radars, and laser sensors enabled detection of the
attacking systems. Dozens of cruise missiles, UAVs and bomber aircraft
were destroyed in the attempts to keep the Iranians from reconstructing
their defense network. Within three months, the original defense network
was restored, and laser batteries on mountains overlooking the Straits of
Hormuz were occasionally operational once again. In the New Year, the
war degenerated into a quasi-stalemate. While the U.S. had the upper
hand, Iran used directed energy weapons to wage a campaign of terror
against vessels transmitting the straits. While the straits remained “open,”
many ship captains were unwilling to attempt passage.
Over one year after the start of the conflict, the administration felt
it was losing the support of the American people. Saudi Arabia offered to
broker a cease-fire between the U.S. and Iran. There was no peace, only a
cease-fire…and Iran still insisted on selling all its oil to China. In the end,
the incumbent administration elected to create a comprehensive energy
policy aimed at achieving energy independence at home.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…33
V. Implications and Recommendations

When one has finished building one’s house, one suddenly
realizes that in the process one has learned something that
one needed to know in the worst way ­ before one began.

–Friedrich Nietzsche

This paper has sought to raise the awareness of DOD on several
key issues regarding directed energy weapons in the future. These issues
should be thoroughly considered as we build our forces for the future.

The Primacy of the Defense

Since fixed sites can be constructed to make maximum use of large
power sources, and since the range of a directed energy weapon is directly
related to the power available, fixed directed energy sites will have greater
range than portable systems. This will likely cause an increase in the
primacy of defense. These defensive sites produce an enormous
conundrum for an expeditionary attack force. If the deployment base is
within the range of the fixed site, deployment may not be possible until
after the site is destroyed. If the deploying force is fully expeditionary, the
destruction of the site may not be possible via conventional means until
deployment is achieved. Even if this problem is solved, a second
challenge remains. Advances in bi-static radar and other sensor
technologies likely in the next twenty to thirty years will make surprise
very difficult to achieve, if it is achievable at all. Thus, future attack
operations against fixed sites will carry extreme risk and may require the
use of special operations forces with specialized skills and advanced,
portable, directed energy equipment. In any event, the utility of
conventional attack against such installations as it is now conceived,
becomes extremely problematic.

The Need for Advanced Stealth ­ Almost Everywhere

To the extent conventional attack remains possible, the need for
surprise becomes a need for stealth. However, this will require much

34… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
better stealth technology than is currently embodied in the F-117 or the B-
2. New passive radars using bi-static technology will enable detection of
all aircraft that do not absorb electromagnetic emissions across the entire
spectrum. Laser sensors, which will send out laser pulses and look for
reflections, will detect anything that reflects light.123 Once these laser
sensors make it to the battlefield, the minimum threshold for effective
stealth will be a system invisible to radars, passive electronic signal
collectors, and reflected light or laser beams. This is an extremely high
threshold for success, which if achievable will likely be extremely
expensive. The cost of not having this technology will be much worse ­
irrelevance in a world with sophisticated, highly effective directed energy
weaponry on both sides of the battlefield.
This level of stealth technology will be needed on all platforms
that come within the lethal range of these directed energy systems. Some
of these systems could potentially have ranges of several hundred
kilometers, which means some transport and specialized aircraft such as
the AWACs, JSTARs, Commando Solo, refueling aircraft and Airborne
Laser platforms will need to incorporate advanced stealth technology just
to perform their basic missions. The lack of stealthy airlift and tanker
platforms in this timeframe will necessitate the creation of either stealth
air refueling aircraft, or new stealth fighters with greatly extended range
similar to the former F-111, or current B-1.
This need for stealth is not limited to aircraft or the Air Force.
Naval vessels will need to be harder to detect or they will increase their
vulnerability to long range directed energy systems and reduce their
relevance in `brown-water’ conflict. Ground-based systems will need to
incorporate camouflage and tactical deception to avoid attack. In short,
the development of lethal directed energy weapons with advanced
detection systems will result in a need for increased emphasis on detection
avoidance in all the armed services.

Challenges for an Expeditionary Force

The advent of high power microwave weapons may create serious
problems for unhardened facilities. The expeditionary mindset of DOD
will need to include methods of ensuring communications and computer
systems are not vulnerable to electromagnetic attack, especially early in
the deployment phase. There are two possible methods to do this.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…35
There is substantial evidence that a combination of fiber optics and
laser communications may provide at least a partial solution to this
problem.124 Combining these technologies with optical switches currently
being researched by the Naval laboratories would clearly enable a robust
inter theater communications system. This will not solve the problem of
hardening the automation technology, nor does it fully secure the
communications between the forward headquarters in theater and
continental U.S.-based activities. To be totally effective in eliminating the
transient currents in communications and computer devices, total
abandonment of metal-based connectors, wires, circuits, and computer
chips may be necessary.125
Alternatively, a major construction program of electromagnetically
hardened facilities at all potential expeditionary forward operating
locations may also be a potential solution. To maximize readiness, these
facilities should be constructed to house all operational units, command
and control facilities, vehicles, and aircraft. These facilities will require
periodic maintenance and the permanent basing of a small cadre of
support personnel. Unless the automation technology on which DoD
depends is hardened against all bands of RF energy signals, hardened
facilities may be the only way to guarantee operability of the technology
on which our operations currently depend.
If the construction of Cold-War like hardened facilities at all
prospective forward bases is perceived to be too expensive, there may be
another method of protecting combat capability from electromagnetic
attack. If all systems, vehicles, and aircraft are designed such that all
computer circuits were located in a module that is rapidly accessible and
replaceable, then hardened facilities need be constructed only to hold these
modules. After a microwave attack, maintenance personnel would then
remove and dispose of the old aircraft/vehicle modules and install the new
ones. While this may also be expensive and will certainly require
substantial stockpiling of spare electronics parts, it may prove less costly
than constructing large numbers of electromagnetically-hardened
The disruptive nature of directed energy weapons also places a
premium on the ability to defend the base during the earliest stages of
deployment. Since the ability to defend against directed energy weapons
is directly dependent on the range of the defensive weapon, consideration
should be given to building robust defenses at the installations overseas to
which we would deploy. If directed energy defenses are used, the range of

36… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
the systems will be dependent on the power output of the respective
systems, which, in turn, is directly related to the available input power. As
such, permanent or fixed-site systems will have greater range than
transportable systems, and would provide a better defense of forward
operating bases, enabling expeditionary deployments to succeed. These
systems, like any permanent hardened facilities, would require continuing
maintenance by a cadre of assigned support personnel. The combinations
of these two future potential requirements result in a need for
reestablishing a minimally manned but robust overseas basing structure.
This alone will take considerable time and diplomatic effort to achieve.

Hardening of Commercial Systems

Commercial off-the-shelf systems will likely need hardening also.
Substantial research is being done in places like The Army Space and
Missile Center at Huntsville, AL, and this research has led to “eighty
percent” solutions against specific microwave frequencies. Unfortunately,
this does not address the wider range of frequencies likely to be
encountered in the future. Still, these technologies hold promise that may
protect systems from damage from attacks by some future weapons.126
However, if protection technologies do not mature sufficiently, then one of
two strategies must be pursued. Either DOD will need to procure
specially designed desktop computer systems hardened to a sufficient
level of protection, or backup systems such as Plexiglas boards and grease
pencils will need to be kept in reserve for command and control should the
computer systems fail. The latter option above will be workable if staffs
and aircrews are trained in manual methods of planning, executing,
commanding and controlling missions. However, this type of training is
no longer conducted, and we are rapidly creating a generation of officers
who lack the skills to efficiently conduct operations without automation.

Force Protection

Personnel protection will need to be enhanced. DOD’s present
mindset on laser eye protection is myopic. The real laser protection issues
for the future have to do with being able to keep our people from being
burned or vaporized by laser beams powerful enough to do so. Current
materials like Nomex can provide a couple of seconds of protection but

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…37
are inadequate to protect against even modest laser exposure.127
Additionally, personnel protection against microwave weaponry will also
be needed. This may be possible by building a protection into outer
garments that will keep microwave energy from penetrating further, much
like a Faraday cage prevents microwaves from leaking from a household
Lastly, protective measures for combatant systems need to be
explored. The question of whether it is even possible to protect a satellite,
aircraft, tank, or naval vessel against high-energy lasers must be
researched. While reflective coatings may work against continuous wave
lasers (i.e., reflecting the laser using a polished silver surface), such
materials may be less effective at pulsed lasers that tend to ablate material
off of a surface. Protection against a combination of the two types of
lasers (pulsed laser ablates the surface causing it to be non-reflective,
continuous wave laser then makes the kill) may also need to be


Doctrine and tactics will need to be revised. With detection and
aiming systems good enough to kill missiles at distances of several
hundred kilometers, the primary doctrinal principle in this environment is
“He who shoots first, wins!” The corollary to this is that he who has the
longest-range weapons, wins, since the one with longest range is the one
who has the ability to shoot first. This may require rethinking national
policies dealing with shows of force and preemptive strikes.
Shows of force and freedom of navigation exercises will be high-
risk operations, and as such may lose their value to diplomats and the
nation’s civilian leadership. Long-range attack from fixed-site directed
energy weapons will have the ability to cause significant damage to
surface combatants or to deploying forces. Freedom of navigation
exercises, especially in narrow passages such as the Straits of Malacca,
Straits of Hormuz, and the South China Sea, may become “turkey shoots”
to determined adversaries, placing thousands of U.S. forces at risk.
Further, the cost-benefit calculus may benefit the adversary. If he attacks
and succeeds the adversary can potentially sink or heavily damage vessels
worth billions of dollars and cause casualties numbering in the thousands.
If the adversary loses the engagement, he may lose a weapon worth a few

38… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
million dollars and the lives of a few operators. This change in calculus
may force re-thinking of U.S. foreign policy and doctrinal alternatives
short of conflict.
Because of the combined potential of accuracy and lethality of
directed energy weapons, preemptive strikes may be one of the few viable
options. As discussed earlier, an adversary equipped with fixed-site
directed energy weapon systems could engage in several effective anti-
access strategies. If these systems remain active during deployment, the
casualty costs to the U.S. could be high. Preemptive attacks against these
sites, while risky, may be the only way to prevent large losses early in a
conflict. As such, Special Operations Forces may be a key enabler for
future regional contingencies.

Directed Energy Weapons–Are They Weapons of Mass

Directed energy weaponry will clearly increase the ability to wage
war. As such, one of the most important implications is whether directed
energy devices will be considered to be weapons of mass destruction. As
power outputs for these weapons improve, they will be capable of
engaging forces at extremely long ranges, and causing casualties at a rapid
pace. The issue as to whether directed energy is a new form of mass
destruction weapon will not be resolved with finality in this paper,
however, it is appropriate to examine directed energy weapons with
respect to the characteristics historically attributed to the other forms of
weapons of mass destruction.
The phrase “weapon of mass destruction” has been in our lexicon
for so long, that it has become almost synonymous with nuclear,
biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons.130 Despite this, there are a
series of characteristics that NBC weapons possess, that could form a
litmus test as to whether directed energy devices fit this category.
Historically, WMD are juxtaposed from conventional munitions by
virtue of their ability to compress the time and effort needed to kill, injure
or incapacitate.131 Further, these weapons have the ability to inflict death
and injury over wide areas, with the prospect for considerable collateral
damage.132 Other sources refer to WMD as “weapons that are capable of a
high order of destruction and/or being used in such a manner as to destroy
large numbers of people.”133 In general, it seems that weapons that cause

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…39
large numbers of casualties, and that have the capacity for large levels of
collateral damage or indiscriminate killing are called WMD.
Figure 3 compares the characteristics of NBC and directed energy
weapons. Of the three NBC weapon types, each has a high ability to
produce casualties, a high rate of producing casualties, and is
indiscriminant in its application. Laser and microwave weapons, as
described in earlier sections, are somewhat different. While both weapon
types can be used indiscriminately, in normal operation neither fits the
criteria for WMD. Microwaves can be totally non-lethal, and both lasers
and microwaves have beams that can be aimed to reduce the potential for
collateral damage. However, like many conventional munitions,
indiscriminate use of lasers or lethal microwaves can produce widespread
collateral damage and WMD-like effects similar to the conventional
munitions used on Tokyo and Hamburg during World War II. While such
indiscriminate use would likely violate the laws of armed conflict, this
author contends that neither lasers nor microwaves should be considered a
form of WMD.
Others may reach different conclusions, and this may affect their
response to directed energy use. For example, if weaponization of lethal
microwaves occurs, then a future adversary may see this as a form of
WMD. For example, if an enemy officer comes across his soldiers lying
dead with no bullet holes or outward signs of what caused their death or
incapacitation, this adversary may conclude a chemical attack had
occurred. As a result, the adversary may respond as if WMD were used.
This is especially possible if the adversary is unfamiliar with the directed
energy technologies and their effects. Thus, even if we have used a
directed energy weapon in a precise attack, how we use it may have
profound implications for others’ interpretations as to whether WMD have
been used and how they will respond. Should the U.S. ever move toward
weaponizing these technologies, these implications must be considered.

40… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield

Figure 3 - Weapon of Mass Destruction Characteristics

Figure 3: Weapon of Mass Destruction Characteristics

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…41
VI. Conclusion

Technologies for directed energy weapons are here today. They
will be considerably more widespread, more available, more powerful, and
more lethal on the battlefields of tomorrow. As such, the Air Force and
DOD must grapple with the strategic implications of these weapons, and
that struggle must begin today.
It currently takes approximately twenty years to bring new major
weapon systems from conception to production. Once procured, these
systems often remain with us for over thirty years. Thus, the plans and
programs of our Air Force today are building our Air Force and
Department of Defense force structure that will be on the front lines in
2050…twenty-five years beyond the date of the conflict posited in this
paper. As a result, for some systems in the procurement pipeline, it may
already be too late to ensure their viability on future battlefields.134
Responsible stewardship of taxpayer-provided resources demands
that we ensure our future systems are adaptable to a directed energy
environment. Aircraft such as the F-22, JSF, and Special Operations M-X,
must be able to survive and continue to perform their mission even in the
presence of intense microwave and laser radiation. While protective
systems are not currently developed, these aircraft must be built in such a
manner that it will be easy to integrate new, more survivable technologies
as they become available. The optimum mix of manned and unmanned
combat systems must also be identified and achieved. It is likely that the
increased risks associated with future operating environments will
significantly change this optimum mix, and that these changes ought to
impact current and near-term procurement priorities.
Of longer strategic concern are the mindset changes that may
accompany the arrival of directed energy weapons to the battlefield. The
ability of these weapons to destroy tent cities in seconds may require a
more hardened basing concept than is currently used. It is likely that we
will need to use bases with an in-place defense and electromagnetically
hardened support structure to which expeditionary air forces deploy. This
may require a permanent overseas base-support presence in all regions in
which the U.S. has vital interests. This in turn may require a larger overall
force structure, and the re-gaining of basing rights in areas where we have
already relinquished them as part of the post-cold-war drawdown. None

42… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
of these proposals will be easy, and most will be expensive and require
long lead-times. Planning in these areas may need to start soon.
The most troubling implications are those that cannot now be
divined. The technology trends suggest directed energy weapons and their
associated computer tracking and firing systems will become nearly 100
percent lethal–eventually on both sides of conflicts. If this is true, and
casualty aversion remains as it is now, then if fixed sites have an
advantage over mobile forces, it may not be politically feasible to wage
war unless the survival of the state is at stake. A serious examination of
the doctrinal implications is needed. Further, if stealth technology cannot
be substantially improved, then the survivability of all surface, airborne,
and space forces is rapidly called into question. This could lead to a new
era of attrition warfare, such as those in the 1860s and 1910s. If true, then
there are also major implications for force structure.
This author claims no prescience of the future. This publication is
merely an attempt to begin a crucial debate within our Air Force and
within DOD on how best to prepare for the world that lies ahead. What
seems clear is that we have only five to ten years before earnest
preparations to meet these challenges will need to be underway. Even
with the most concerted of efforts, it will take us that long to select a path
on which to proceed. This debate is important, because directed energy
weapons promise to transform the battlefield at least as much as the rifled
barrel, and at least as much as the aircraft…maybe even more. As such
we have a choice to be proactive and lead that transformation, or be left
behind as the world changes around us. At stake is the future of the
United States and the world in which we live.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…43
1 Walling, Eileen M., Colonel, High Power Microwaves; Strategic and Operational
Implications for Warfare, Center for Strategy and Technology, Air University Press,
2000, p. 1
2 Powell, Howard T., Keeping Laser Development on Target for the National
Ignition Facility, available at, 20 Oct 00, p. 2 and
Shifan, Ji, Development of Tactical Air Defense Laser Weapons at Home and Abroad: An
National Air Intelligence Center, Wright Patterson AFB, OH, 1996, p. 4
3 Ackerman, Dr. Harro, Chief Laser Division, Air Force Research Laboratories
Directed Energy Directorate, personal email, 23 Jan 2002. This author is indebted to Dr.
Ackerman for several suggestions that greatly improved the accuracy of the history
section of this paper. For a full discussion of the history of directed energy technologies,
see also: Duffner, Robert and Mark, Hans, Airborne Laser ­ Bullets of Light,” Perseus
Publishing Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 15, 1997, 398 pp.
4 Ibid.
5 Powell, Howard T., Keeping Laser Development on Target for the National
Ignition Facility and Shifan, Ji, Development of Tactical Air Defense Laser Weapons at
Home and Abroad: An Outline

6 These problems were solved and this laser went on to be a successful demonstrator
at significantly higher power levels. Ackerman, Harro, personal email.
7 Ackerman, Harro, personal email
8 Pake, George E., et al, Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­
Report of the American Physical Society Study Group, New York, New York, April
1987, p. 54
9 Boeing Aerospace Representatives in discussions at their display at the Directed
Energy Society Symposium, Albuquerque NM, November1999.
10 Talbot, John P., Laser History–Airborne Star Wars Laser, available at, October 19, 2000, 4pp and
“Airborne Laser Fact Sheet,” Missile Defense Agency, Washington DC, April 2003,
available at: as of April 4, 2003.
11 Pake, George E., et al, Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­
Report of the American Physical Society Study Group, New York, New York, April
1987, pp. 54-56. Pake covers both the derivation of the mathematical formulas as well as
defining the amount of energy required to destroy these targets.
12 Discovery Channel–Canada, Airborne Laser Assault From the Skies, world wide
web article available at:, October 25, 2000
13 Moss, William C., Taking Short Pulse Laser Energy to New Peaks, Science and
Technology Review, September 1995, p. 35
14 Ibid. Moss discusses a method using diffraction of the light beam to accomplish
this task.
15 Powell, Howard T., “Keeping Laser Development on Target for the National
Ignition Facility,” Available at the National Ignition Facility website at, 20 October 2000, p. 2. Here Powell compares the
final generation capacity of the laser of 500 trillion watts to the national generation

44… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
capacity. The reference in the text uses his relationship to extrapolate the appropriate
power output for the smaller 100 Terawatt tabletop device.
16 Moss, William C., Taking Short Pulse Laser Energy to New Peaks, Science and
Technology Review, September 1995, p. 35, and Pake, George E., et al, Science and
Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­ Report of the American Physical Society
Study Group,
New York, New York, April 1987, pp. 256-267
17 Pake, George E., et al, Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­
Report of the American Physical Society Study Group, New York, New York, April
1987, p. 258.
18 Standard atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch is equivalent to
1013 millibars or 1.013 bars. Thus a megabar would equate to a pressure of 14,700,000
pounds per square foot. The reader should note three things here, however. First, this
pressure exists in only the small area covered by the beam and exists for such a short time
span that the structural effects are smaller (though still significant) than one normally
imagines. Lastly, while the tests in 1987 did record this pressure, the results measured in
most experiments seem to be on the order of only a few hundred thousand bars, which is
why the lower number of 1 million pounds per square inch is used in the text.
19 Pake, George E., et al, Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­
Report of the American Physical Society Study Group, New York, New York, April
1987, pp. 243-300. Pake et al, describes various devices that were tested in the late 1980s
for ballistic missile defense. Among the most effective pulsed lasers were those
producing several pulses spaced several hundred nanoseconds apart. This created not
only considerable ablation but also a phenomenon known as impulse loading, which
greatly contributes to the structural failure mechanism discussed in the text immediately
20 Ibid.
21 This is speculation by the author based on the discussion of plasma effects in
Pake, George E., et al, Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­ Report of
the American Physical Society Study Group,
New York, New York, April 1987, pp. 249-
266. Pake et al discusses the plasma region reaching temperatures of over 5000 degrees
Kelvin (approx. 8,500 degrees Fahrenheit). The author proposes that a sudden 8000-
degree increase in temperature of the gas inside most jet engines would likely cause
operational problems.
22 Description of effects taken from Jahn, Joseph, Microwaves, available at, 23 October 2000, pp. 1-2,
23 Jahn, Joseph, Microwaves, available at,
23 October 2000, pp. 1-2, and Walling, Eileen M., High Power Microwaves; Strategic
and Operational Implications for Warfare
, Center for Strategy and Technology
Occasional Paper 11, Maxwell AFB, AL, p. 1
24 Merritt, Ira W., Proliferation and Significance of Radio Frequency Weapons
Technology,” Joint Economic Committee Hearing on Radio Frequency Weapons and
Proliferation, February 25, 1998, available at, 38 pp.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…45
25 Ibid., p. 7
26 Smith, Gary, Dr., Director of John Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory in testimony before the House of Representatives, available at
27 Wood, Lowell, Effect of Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks, Testimony before the
House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Military
Research and Development, 7 October 1999, Prepared Statement, pp. 1-3; acquired
28 Bernardin, Michael P., Effect of Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks, Testimony before
the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Military
Research and Development, 7 October 1999, Prepared Statement, pp. 2-4, available at:
29 Wood, Lowell, Effect of Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks, Testimony before the
House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Military
Research and Development, 7 October 1999, Response to questions from Representative
Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-MD); acquired through
30 Wood, Lowell; Graham, William; Bernardin, Michael; Jakubiak, Stanley J.; Effect
of Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks, Testimony before the House of Representatives
Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Research and Development, 7
October 1999, pp. 120 available at as of
April 7, 2003
31 Treaty on Principals Governing the Activities of States in Exploration and Use of
Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, also known as The Outer
Space Treaty
, was drafted in 1967. Full text of the treaty and current signatory status is
available at
32 Weldon, Curt (R-PA), Chairman House Armed Services Subcommittee on
Military Research and Development during a hearing entitled Effect of Electromagnetic
Pulse Attacks,
7 October 1999, 120 pp. The congressman referred to the speeches of the
Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma. Proceedings
available at:
33 Liang, Qiao and Xiangsui, Wang, Chao Xian Zhan (tr. Unrestricted Warfare),
Beijing, China, February 1999, 173 pp.
34 Bernardin, Michael P., Prepared Statement, pp. 2-4, and Wood, Lowell; Graham,
William; Bernardin, Michael; Jakubiak, Stanley J.; Effect of Electromagnetic Pulse
Testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services
Subcommittee on Military Research and Development, 7 October 1999, 120 pp.
available at:
35 Jakubiak, Stanley J., Prepared Statement, pp. 2-4

46… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
36 Ibid. Recent commercial off-the-shelf material testing has confirmed these
general field strength figures.
37 Graham, William, Effect of Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks, Testimony before the
House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Military
Research and Development, 7 October 1999, 120 pp., acquired through
38 Wood, Lowell; Graham, William; Bernardin, Michael; Jakubiak, Stanley J. pp. 1-
120 39 Testing on EMP effects has been conducted by the U.S. Army, the Office of the
National Communications System, AT&T, Bell Laboratories, and the National
Laboratory of Los Alamos. In all cases, Wood argues that three fundamental flaws
occurred in testing. First, since the largest EMP and microwave effects travel through
wires into the systems, tests should be conducted with uncoiled wires exposed to the
EMP effects. Due to the size of the testing facilities, wires were either not connected or
were coiled out of range of the EMP pulses. As a result, systems were never exposed to
the likely voltages. Second, microwaves and EMP effects use internal system energies
like the electricity flowing through circuits to affect disruptions. The tests above were
conducted without power on, resulting in test results that are likely more favorable than
the real world environment. Third, the microwaves and EMP frequencies that have the
greatest effect on systems were often not tested against the systems, further resulting in
overly favorable results. Since the results of these tests are the basis for more optimistic
predictions regarding microwave and EMP effects, and since these tests are not valid,
Wood, Bernardin, Graham, and this author conclude that the potential impact of
microwave bursts on U.S. systems in their present configuration could be very serious. 39
Wood, Lowell; Graham, William; Bernardin, Michael; Jakubiak, Stanley J., pp. 1-120
40 Shriner, David, The Design and Fabrication of a Damage Inflicting RF Weapon
by “Back Yard Methods,” Joint Economic Committee Hearing on Radio Frequency
Weapons and Proliferation, February 25, 1998, 6 pp.
41 Wood, Lowell; Graham, William; Bernardin, Michael; Jakubiak, Stanley J.
42 Walling, Eileen M., High Power Microwaves; Strategic and Operational
Implications for Warfare, Center for Strategy and Technology Occasional Paper 11,
Maxwell AFB, AL, p. 8
43 Hoover Dam–How It All Works, January 4, 1999, available at Admittedly, Hoover Dam produces its
2 gigawatt power output continuously, 24 hours per day compared to the microwave
sources nanosecond pulse timescale; however, the comparison is certainly an interesting
one. 44Shriner, David, The Design and Fabrication of a Damage Inflicting RF Weapon
by “Back Yard Methods,”
Joint Economic Committee Hearing on Radio Frequency
Weapons and Proliferation, February 25, 1998, 6 pp.
45 Merritt, Ira W., The Design and Fabrication of a Damage Inflicting RF Weapon
by “Back Yard Methods,” Joint Economic Committee Hearing on Radio Frequency

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…47
Weapons and Proliferation, February 25, 1998, available at, 38 pp.
46 Ibid.
47 Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical Applications,
1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England, pp. 443-444.
48 Ibid. pp. 444-5
49 Daily, L., Wakim, K., Herrick, J., and Parkhill, E., “Effects of Microwave
Diathermy on the Eye,” American Journal of Physiology, Number 155, 1948, p. 482 cited
in Ibid.
50 MacLaughlin, J., “Tissue Destruction and Death from Microwave Radiation
(RADAR),” California Medicine, Vol. 86, 1957, pp. 336-339 cited in Thuery, Jacques,
Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical Applications, 1992, Artech House
Publishing, London, England, pp. 445
51 A listing of 955 sources is available in Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial,
Scientific, and Medical Applications, 1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England,
pp. 506-552. Thuery points out his list is not complete. This author has found sources
outside Thurey’s listing.
52 Ibid. pp. 444-552
53 Chen, K., and Lin C., “A System for Studying Effects of Microwaves on Cells in
Culture,” Journal of Microwave Power, Volume 11, 1976, pp. 140-141. Cited in Ibid.
pp. 449
54 Baldwin, S., Caczmarek, L., and Adey, W., “Effects of Modulated Very High
Frequency Fields on the Central Nervous System,” in Tyler, P., Ann. New York Academy
of Sciences
Vol. 247, 1975, pp. 74-81 and Arber, S., “The Effect of Microwave Radiation
on Passive Membrane Properties of Snail Neurons,” Journal of Microwave Power, Vol.
16, No 1, 1981, pp. 21-3. Both cited in Ibid., pp. 456-468.
55 Ivanov, A., and Cuhlovin B., Etat fonctionnel des leucocytes d’un organisme
expose aux micro-ondes. In: Gigena truda I biologiceskoje djejstvije electromagnitnyh
voln radiocastot SV. Materialov, III. Vsesimpoz., Moskva, 1968, pp. 62-63 cited in Ibid.
pp. 450-452
56 MacRee D., “Soviet and Eastern European Research on Biological Effects of
Microwave Radiation,” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 68, No 1, 1980, pp. 84-91
57 Ibid.
58 Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical Applications,
1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England, pp. 474-475 and Pasternak, Douglas,
“Wonder Weapons; The Pentagon’s Quest for Nonlethal Arms is Amazing. But is it
U. S. News and World Report OnLine, available at, 23 October 2000, p. 1
59 Ibid., p. 5. Events reported by Byrd, Eldon, researcher at the Armed Forces
Radiobiology Institute in Bethesda, MD. Mr. Byrd believed that weaponization of this
technology was only one year away in 1983 when the program was stopped. See also
Siniscalchi, Joseph, Non-Lethal Technologies, Implications for Military Strategy,

48… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
Occasional Paper Number 3, Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College,
Maxwell AFB, AL, March 1998, p. 7
60 Gandhi, O., and Riazi, A., “Absorption of Millimeter Waves by Human Beings
and Its Biological Implications,” IEEE Trans. Microwave Theory and Technology, Vol.
34, No 2., 1986, pp. 228-235. Michaelson, S., “Cutaneous Perception of Microwaves,”
Journal of Microwave Power, Vol. 7, No 2, 1972, pp. 67-73. Mac Afee, R.,
“Physiological Effects of Thermode and Microwave Stimulation of Peripheral Nerves,”
American Journal of Physiology, Volume 203, 1962, pp. 347-378. Justesen, D., Adair E.,
Stevens J., and Bruce-Wolf V., “A Comparative Study of Human Sensory Thresholds:
2450 MHz Microwave vs. Far-infrared Radiation,” Bioelectrimagn., Vol. 3, 1982, pp.
117-125. Cited in Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical
, 1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England, pp. 477-482
61 Pasternak, Douglas, “Wonder Weapons; The Pentagon’s Quest for Nonlethal
Arms is Amazing. But is it Smart?” U. S. News and World Report OnLine, available at, 23 October 2000, p. 4
62 Ibid. Event reported by a Mr. Clay Easterly, a researcher in the Health Sciences
Research Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
63 Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical Applications,
1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England, pp. 476-477 and Pasternak., pp. 4-5.
64 Pasternak, Douglas, “Wonder Weapons; The Pentagon’s Quest for Nonlethal
Arms is Amazing. But is it Smart?” U. S. News and World Report OnLine, available at, 23 October 2000, p. 4. Thuery
mentions that microwaves have a demonstrated ability to create the illusion of sound in
the ear. See Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical
, 1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England, pp. 478-479
65 Thuery, Jacques, Microwaves: Industrial, Scientific, and Medical Applications,
1992, Artech House Publishing, London, England, pp. 444-502
66 Schwartz, Peter, The Art of the Long View, Doubleday Publishing Group, New
York, New York, 1991, pp. 3-124. The author distills the methods of future
prognostication from the first half of Schwartz’s text. See also, Spulak, Robert G.,
Briefing to the USSOCOM Future Concept Working Group, February 1999.
67 The reader should note that the history drawn upon contains a variety of types of
directed energy devices, and the graphs that follow will be from this variety of systems.
In the past, when the power output of one laser device plateaued, other technologies were
developed to push the power outputs further. The assumption in this section is that this
development process will continue, in the same manner it has proceeded in the past.
68 This analysis is based on the damage thresholds contained in Pake, George E., et
al., Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons: Report of the American
Physical Society Study Group
, New York, New York, 20 April 1987, 422pp. The figures
in the text are extremely conservative. Rogers, Mark E., Lasers in Space: Technological
Options for Enhancing U.S. Military Capabilities
, Center for Strategy and Technology
Occasional Paper 2, Maxwell AFB, AL, November 1997, cites two other studies on
fluence levels needed to damage targets. In both, the damage threshold is one-tenth that

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…49
used in the above analysis. The result is that the capabilities of the systems in the text
above may be a full order of magnitude greater than depicted.
69 Derived largely from multiple sources cited in part 2. Data from 1978 estimated
based on open source data of first COIL test. Data from 1997 based on Boeing proposal
for 100kw laser for V-22 Osprey based on demonstrated technology. Proposal was
unveiled in unclassified vendor display at the Directed Energy Professional Society
Annual Symposium in October 1999 in Albuquerque, NM. Data for 2003 is based on an
unclassified briefing on the ABL given by Dr Earl Good, Air Force Research
Laboratories, Directed Energy Directorate, September 2000, where he indicated the ABL
laser strength was between 2 and 8 megawatts. A figure of 3 MW was used to build the
chart. 70 Chart data comes from Perry, Michael, et. al., “Taking Short Pulse Laser Energy
to New Peaks,” Science and Technology Review, September 1995, pp. 35-39.
71 Powell, Howard T., Keeping Laser Development on Target for the National
Ignition Facility, available at, 14pp, 20 Oct 00. It
should be noted that while the technology to produce an output of 5 quadrillion watts
exists, the time distance between pulses is excessive, and on the order of hours due to
cooling concerns. This paper posits that advances to reduce this time to less than 1
second will occur in the next 20 years.
72 Perry, Michael, et. al., “Taking Short Pulse Laser Energy to New Peaks,” Science
and Technology Review, September 1995, pp. 35-39. The article reviews the 100
terawatt tabletop device that is a precursor to the 5 quadrillion watt device above.
73 Laser energy can penetrate through clouds. While some clouds are optically
opaque, and will block virtually all laser energy, other cloud formations allow some
transmission. For specifics, see Woodford, Rich, Cloud Characteristics: Impact on High
Energy Laser Use,
Briefing to Tactical High Energy Laser Technical Interchange
Meeting 2, 19 Jan 2000. The 5 petawatt laser is capable of transmitting over 5 gigawatts
through some clouds of 1000 meters thickness, and may be able to transmit terawatt
levels of power through rain beneath a cloud base.
74 “High Power Microwaves,” Air Force Research Laboratory, Directed Energy
Directorate, Fact Sheet, September 2002, available at: as of April 7, 2003 and Hess, Pamela,
“U.S. Non-Lethal Weapons Being Developed,” Washington Post, 31 October 2002,
available on-line at:
9176r.htm as of April 7, 2003
75 Siniscalchi, Joseph, Non-Lethal Technologies, Implications for Military Strategy,
Occasional Paper Number 3, Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College,
Maxwell AFB, AL, March 1998, p. 7
76 Walling, Eileen M., High Power Microwaves; Strategic and Operational
Implications for Warfare, Center for Strategy and Technology Occasional Paper 11,
Maxwell AFB, AL, p. 6. Colonel Walling’s description of the beam width of typical
microwave emitters suggests that given sufficient range, a battlefield area could be totally

50… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
covered with only a few of these weapons. As a minimum, a lethal point defense system
could be erected.
77 Bunn, George, et al, White Paper on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,
1999, 87pp. Available at and
“Senate Votes Down Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” CNN Report on 13 Oct 00 available at
78 Bernardin, Michael P., Prepared Statement, pp. 2-4, and Jakubiak, Stanley J
Prepared Statement, pp. 2-4
79 Walling, Eileen M., High Power Microwaves; Strategic and Operational
Implications for Warfare, Center for Strategy and Technology Occasional Paper 11,
Maxwell AFB, AL, p. 7.
80 Walling, Eileen M., High Power Microwaves; Strategic and Operational
Implications for Warfare, Center for Strategy and Technology Occasional Paper 11,
Maxwell AFB, AL, pp. 17-18.
81 Ibid., pp. 21-24
82 The value of plausible scenarios is described at length in Schwartz, Peter, The Art
of the Long View, Doubleday Publishers, New York, New York, 1991, 257 pp.
83 Englebrecht, Joseph A.; Bivins, Robert L.; Condray, Patrick M.; Fecteau, Merrily
D.; Geis, John P. II; and Smith, Kevin C.; Alternate Futures for 2025, Air University
Press, Maxwell AFB, AL, September 1996, 236pp.
84 The term “American Century” was coined by LeFeber, Walter in The American
Century: American Foreign Policy Since the 1890s.
See LeFeber, Walter, “The
American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad Since 1750
, W. W.
Norton Publishers, New York, New York, 1898, 759 pp.
85 Large amounts of Chinese populate these countries. For specifics, see Hook, Brian and
Twitchett, Denis, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, England, 1991, p. 86. Chinese own 70-75 percent of the non-governmental
assets in Indonesia, and over 90 percent in Thailand and Taiwan. Yanan, Ju, “China: The
Fourth Power,” The Officer, December 1994, p. 31
86 Selimuddin, Abu, “China: The Biggest Dragon of All?” USA Today, September 1994,
p. 175
87 Morrison, Wayne, M., Congressional Research Service, IB98014: China’s Economic
September 21, 2000, available at
88 Ibid. Morrison extrapolates China’s current growth rate which causes it to pass the
United States in total size in the 2007-08 timeframe. It is important to note that China’s
economy is projected to do this at an 8-9 percent annual growth rate, which is nearly
triple, the growth rate of the American economy. In this scenario, the author has adjusted
the date by a few years to account for the economic slowdown underway at the time of
publication, even though this slowdown seems to be affecting the U.S. more than it is

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…51
89 This projection is based on a slowing of the Chinese economic growth rate to an
average of only 8 percent over this timeframe. If the U.S. can sustain its current growth
rate of 3.5 for this same period, the U.S. GDP in 2025 will be $19.6 billion.
90 Chanda, Nyan, “Fear of the Dragon,” Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 April 1995, p.
91 Nolt, James H., The China-Taiwan Military Balance, Taiwan Security Research,
January 2000, available at
92 Ibid.
93 Howard, Russell D., The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army: “Short Arms and Slow
, Institute for National Security Studies Occasional Paper No. 28, September 1999
Available at Howard talks
about current Chinese defense policy as emphasizing modernization especially in areas
such as C3I and directed energy. The level of development in these fields is an extension
of the rationale in parts 2 and 3 of this paper, based on the emphasis levels Howard
94 Iran, Islamic Republic at a Glance, World Bank, 2000, available at and Iran’s Economy,
available at Iran online: 25 Nov
95 Iran’s economy is growing at an annual rate of 5.1 percent per year as of October 2000.
For specifics see Iran at, 24 Nov 2000.
96 Ibid.
97 Department of Energy Report EIA-0484, World Oil Markets, March 31, 2000 available
at The report projects increased ties between
the Middle Eastern nations and China as China’s energy consumption grows through the
98 GDP computed based on 1999 figure of $347.6 billion in purchasing power
parity taken from CIA World Factbook 2000, available at This was extrapolated
toward 2000 at a constant growth rate of 5.1 percent, which is the Department of
Energy’s projected growth rate for Iran over the near term. See also Iran, Background
Paper by the Department of Energy, October 2000. Available at
99 This includes the disputed islands of Tunb al Kubra, Abu Musa, and Tunb As Sughra.
100 Background Notes: Saudi Arabia, September 1998, State Department Notes available
at The State
Department indicates King Fahd is in failing health and Crown Prince Abdullah is likely
to take complete control of the government shortly.
101 Ibid. The State Department mentions areas of instability within Saudi Arabia in its
1998 Fact Sheet. American presence continues to be a source of disenfranchisement
among the religious of the region.

52… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
102 A senior flag officer and Pentagon strategic planner, under the rubric of academic non-
attribution, stated that without exception, Theater Combatant Commanders today view
“More is Better” as the theme for Theater Engagement. This speaker further indicated
that little thought is given to the quality of the engagement or its long-term effects in
many cases. Lecture presented to the AWC Class of 2001 in November 2000.
103 This is based on the Republican tax cut proposals put forth in the 2000 election
campaign. The Office of Management and Budget believes that federal spending caps
will not remain for the 2000-2010 timeframe. Based on that assumption, deficits of $47
billion will be accrued over this ten-year period if the tax cuts are passed. The result will
be a continuation of the constraints over U.S. defense spending. For more information
see: “New Democrats Oppose Fiscally Irresponsible Tax Cut,” available at, p. 1, 12 Dec 2000
104 ” Petroleum and Natural Gas: Prospects Through 2005,” available on the Office of
Energy Statistics page at:,
Tables 1 and 3, 12 December 2000
105 Figure of $20 trillion is a slightly generous extrapolation from U.S. government
projections of a GDP of $15.775 trillion in 2020. Table of GDP growth is available from
“International Gross Domestic product, Population, and General Conversion Factors,”
available at, 12 December 2000.

Extrapolation of current growth rates yields a 2025 GDP of $19.6 trillion.
106 This paper posits the same AEF organization structure will exist in 2025 as exists
today, though the AEFs of 2025 will be equipped with more modern weapon systems.
107 Figure arrived at through extrapolation of statistics from the Department of
Energy statistical forecasts. See table 1 at,
12 Dec 2000
108 Derived from a 2020 estimate from the International Energy Agency’s
World Energy Outlook, Executive Summary, available at The 2020 estimate was adjusted to 2025 by the
mean growth rate of 1.9 percent.
109 Wong, John, China’s Economy in 1998: Maintaining Growth and Staving off the
Asian Contagion, April 1999, 48pp. Wong raises the specter of inadequate growth in
China could cause a breakdown in stability.
110 Units in accordance with the current Expeditionary Aerospace Force Detail
Concept Paper available at and the lead wings as currently
111 The Iranian lasers are posited to be line of sight weapons. The curvature of the
earth is approximated by the formula d2/8R where d is the distance across the surface of
the earth and R is the radius of the earth. Using this formula, at 100 miles distance
(approximately the width of the Persian Gulf), an Iranian ground based laser would be
able to hit and destroy all aircraft flying at altitudes above 1650 feet.

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…53
112 This is postulated as a near simultaneous attack (within an hour or so of each
other), and it takes at least this much time for the U.S. coalition forces to ascertain how
the aircraft were attacked.
113 Figure derived from 2 Boeing 747s worth of military personnel deploying into
theater, crew of the C17, and more than 100 ground casualties caused by aircraft crashing
into the base proper.
114 Title 10 Section 9511-9513 details the law on Civil Reserve Air Fleet aircraft.
While these aircraft are under contract to the federal government, the only penalty
specified in this code for withdrawal of aircraft from the fleet is a reimbursement to the
government for contract money received with an additional penalty. Given the poor
survivability of the CRAF missions in this scenario, airlines could view these losses as a
breach of contract and the Title 10 code that states that safety of the CRAF fleet is a top
115 Laser communication is not new. Several companies have undertaken the
development of laser based communications. A recent web search revealed over 100 on
line. Discussions with Paul Westmeyer, Chief Systems Engineer in NASA Goddard’s
Earth Program Office indicates that miniaturized laser communications will be possible
before the 2020 timeframe; that these devices will be able to be networked together to
provide reliable in theater communications and these devices will be relatively immune to
microwave effects.
116 Lasers here are envisioned to be a primary sensor. A laser device can be used to
conduct a multi-bar raster scan looking for targets. This scan is conducted by moving the
laser rapidly back and forth across the sky looking for reflected light returns. Only those
vehicles that are stealthy in the visible spectrum (no such vehicles in service or planned
as of Dec 2000) will be able to defeat such a sensor system. Resolution of such a system
could easily exceed the best synthetic aperture radars. Such a sensor system is what
enables the airborne laser laboratory to detect and identify missiles only a couple of feet
across at distances of several hundred kilometers. Identification of aircraft, which have
cross sections, ten times larger, would thus be possible at several thousand kilometers
distance. Cruise missiles would easily be detectable out to line of sight.
117 Indigenous Warriors is a USSOCOM Future Concept Working Group (FCWG)
concept. The basic idea is that special forces will deliberately recruit persons of various
ethnic backgrounds and train these people to a high degree of cultural and language
proficiency for the countries of their ancestry. When necessary, these troops can use this
knowledge to enhance their chances for survival in combat situations.
118 The use of IR lasers here has two purposes. First, an infrared band laser cannot
be seen, even at night, with the unaided eye. Some IR lasers will not be visible, even
with advanced night vision devices. This enables a silent lethal shot, taken at long range,
which would contribute to a special operations team remaining undetected. Sensor
technology, posited to improve over the next 20 years will likely reduce the use of more
traditional SOF tactics such as gun silencers, throat slitting, etc…
119 Both locations are strategic is lands in the Persian Gulf very close to the transit
lanes through the Straits of Hormuz

54… Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield
120 Iran’s first attempt was shot down by the theater air defense system. Iran’s
second attempt saturated the system with over 20 missiles, in order to get one “leaker”
121 The reader may wonder why this tactic was not pursued earlier. Among the
assumptions in this scenario, and the AF 2025 study on which it was based, is that the
U.S. would not escalate to nuclear weapons use, unless an opponent used WMD. Thus,
the President would not likely approve the tactic of a nuclear airburst over Iran unless
Iran first used some form of weapon of mass destruction against allied forces.
122 Iran did this as a countermeasure to future attacks based on the concept of
“Effects-Based Targeting” put forth by Major General Dave Deptula, USAF.
123 Zust, Eric, Tactical High Energy Laser Tactical Interchange Meeting CD-ROM,
November 2000.
124 Conversations and emails with Paul Westmeyer, Chief Systems Engineer in
NASA Goddard’s Earth Program Office
125 Ibid.
126 Brown, Mark, Merritt, I., Altgilbers, L., Program to Develop RF Mitigation
Technologies for Missile Defense Electronics, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense
Command, Advanced Technology Directorate, Huntsville, AL, 9 February 1999, 6 pp.
127 “Racing Apparel,” Dupont Corporation Information Even with several
thicknesses, the NOMEX suits used by the Formula I drivers depicted in the information
sheet is said to provide only a few “valuable seconds” of protection. Available at, 28 November 2000
128 For the effect of Faraday Cages on the transmission on Microwaves see,
Bloomfield, Louis A., How Things Work: Microwave Ovens, available at
129 The implications of this technique are discussed in Pake, George E., et al,
Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons ­ Report of the American Physical
Society Study Group,
New York, New York, April 1987, pp. 1-457
130 In a literature search on weapons of mass destruction, this author reviewed
abstracts and the text of over 200 articles and publications on WMD. Only three
contained a discussion of the characteristics of weapons of mass destruction. Of those,
only one attempted to actually define the phrase. The remainder, almost 99 percent of
those sources examined, used WMD and NBC (nuclear, chemical, and biological
weapons) interchangeably, as if the two terms meant the same thing.
131 Office of Technology Assessment, Proliferation of Weapons of Mass
Destruction, Washington DC, 1993, p. 11 quoted in Spiers, Edward M., Weapons of Mass
Destruction: Prospects for Proliferation
, St Martins Press, Inc., New York, New York,
2000, p. 2
132 Spiers, Edward M., Weapons of Mass Destruction: Prospects for Proliferation,
St Martins Press, Inc., New York, New York, 2000, p. 2
133 Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, November 1997, p. 412 quoted in Hays,
Peter L.; Joidoin, Vincent J.; and Van Tassel, Alan R.; Countering the Proliferation and

Directed Energy Weapons on the Battlefield…55
Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Primis Custom Publishing, New York, New York,
1998, p. 2
134 The author views the current emphasis on `spiral development’ as a positive
development. However, if systems being fielded now are not designed to be easily
hardened, or have new types of “stealth” technology easily incorporated, then the needed
updates may be cumbersome or too expensive to apply.

Center for Strategy and Technology

The Center for Strategy and Technology was established at the Air
War College in 1996. Its purpose is to engage in long-term strategic
thinking about technology and its implications for U.S. national security.

The Center focuses on education, research, and publications that
support the integration of technology into national strategy and policy. Its
charter is to support faculty and student research, publish research through
books, articles, and occasional papers, fund a regular program of guest
speakers, host conferences and symposia on these issues, and engage in
collaborative research with U.S. and international academic institutions.
As an outside funded activity, the Center enjoys the support of institutions
in the strategic, scientific, and technological worlds.

An essential part of this program is to establish relationships with
organizations in the Air Force as well as other Department of Defense
agencies, and identify potential topics for research projects. Research
conducted under the auspices of the Center is published as Occasional
Papers and disseminated to senior military and political officials, think
tanks, educational institutions, and other interested parties. Through these
publications, the Center hopes to promote the integration of technology
and strategy in support of U.S. national security objectives.

For further information on the Center for Strategy and Technology,
please contact:

John P. Geis II, Director
Grant T. Hammond, Deputy Director
Theodore C. Hailes, Deputy Director

Air War College
325 Chennault Circle
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama 36112
(334) 953-6996/2985/5579
(DSN 493-6996/2985/5579)


Titles in the Occasional Papers Series

Reachback Operations for Air Campaign Planning and Execution
Scott M. Britten, September 1997

Lasers in Space: Technological Options for Enhancing U.S. Military
Mark E. Rogers, November 1997

Non-Lethal Technologies: Implications for Military Strategy
Joseph Siniscalchi, March 1998

Perils of Reasoning by Historical Analogy: Munich, Vietnam, and the
American Use of Force Since 1945
Jeffrey Record, March 1998

Lasers and Missile Defense: New Concepts for Space-Based and Ground-
Based Laser Weapons
William H. Possel, July 1998

Weaponization of Space: Understanding Strategic and Technological
Thomas D. Bell, January 1999

Legal Constraints or Information Warfare
Mark Russell Shulmann, March 1999

Serbia and Vietnam: A Preliminary Comparison of U.S. Decisions to Use
Jeffrey Record, May 1999

Airborne and Space-Based Lasers: An Analysis of Technological and
Operational Compatibility
Kenneth W. Barker, June 1999

Directed Energy and Fleet Defense: Implications for Naval Warfare
William J. McCarthy, February 2000

High Power Microwaves: Strategic and Operational Implications for
Eileen M. Walling, March 2000

Reusable Launch Vehicles and Space Operations
John E. Ward, Jr., March 2000

Cruise Missiles and Modern War: Strategic and Technological
David J. Nicholls, March 2000

Deeply Buried Facilities: Implications for Military Operations
Eric M. Sepp, March 2000

Technology and Command: Implications for Military Operations in the
Twenty-First Century
William B. McClure, July 2000

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Implications for Military Operations
David Glade, July 2000


Computer Networks and Information Warfare: Implications for Military
David J. Gruber, July 2000

Failed States and Casualty Phobia: Implications for Force Structure and
Technology Choices
Jeffrey Record, December 2000

War as We Knew It: The Real Revolution in Military
Affairs/Understanding Paralysis in Military Operations
Jan S. Breemer, December 2000

Using Lasers in Space: Laser Orbital Debris Removal and Asteroid
Jonathan W. Campbell, December 2000

Weapons for Strategic Effect: How Important is Technology?
Collin S. Gray, January 2001

U.S. Army Apache Helicopters and U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Forces:
Implications for Future Military Operations
Brad Mason, June 2001

The End of Secrecy? Military Competitiveness in the Age of Transparency
Beth M. Kaspar, August 2001

Prompt Global Strike Through Space: What Military Value?
Larry G. Sills, August 2001


Precision Engagement at the Strategic Level of War: Guiding Promise or
Wishful Thinking?
Timothy J. Sakulich, December 2001

Infrared Systems for Tactical Aviation: An Evolution in Military Affairs?
George B. Hept, January 2002

Unmanned Undersea Vehicles and Guided Missile Submarines:

Technological and Operational Synergies
Edward A. Johnson, Jr., February 2002

Attack Operations For Missile Defense
Merrick E. Krause, May 2002

Death by a Thousand Cuts: Micro-Air Vehicles in the Service of Air
Force Missions
Arthur F. Huber II, June 2002

Sustained Space Superiority: A National Strategy for the United States
Larry J. Schaefer, August 2002

Hyperspectral Imagery: Warfighting Through a Different Set of Eyes
Paul J. Pabich, October 2002

This document  was originally located on: (now removed)
New Source

This article is part of the series: HAARP and the Sky Heaters
Also see our Space-Weather Modification Timeline


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