Both systems promise to be inexpensive to use. Electricity bills will range “from $5 to $10” for a pulse of a few seconds, says Michael Perry, vice president in charge of laser systems at General Atomics.

Why are we only getting ray guns now, more than a century after HG Wells imagined them in his science fiction novel? War of the Worlds? Part of this can be explained by the growing demand for cheap missile defense, but mostly it is the result of technological progress in the field of high-energy lasers.

Old back-up high power lasers used chemical reactions in a flowing gas. This method was clumsy, heavy and dangerous, and the laser itself became a highly flammable target for enemy attacks. The advantage was that these chemical lasers could be made extremely powerful, a far cry from the frail pulsed ruby ​​lasers that startled observers back in the 1960s by punching holes in razor blades (with power levels that were jokingly measured in “gillets”) .

“With lasers, if you can see it, you can kill it.” — Robert Afzal, Lockheed Martin

By 2014, fiber lasers had reached the point where they could be considered weapons, and the USS had one 30 kW model installed. Ponce, where he demonstrated the ability to shoot down speedboats and small drones at relatively close range. The 300kW fiber lasers currently in use on two Army projects emit about 100kW of optical power, enough to burn through much heavier targets (not to mention quite a lot of vests) at a considerable distance.

“A laser of this class can be effective against a wide variety of targets, including cruise missiles, mortars, UAVs and aircraft,” says Perry. “But not warheads [launched by ballistic missiles]”. These are warheads, and according to him, in order to deflect them, you will probably have to hit the missile while it is still in its boost phase, which means putting your laser into orbit. Laser technology is still far from such a feat.

However, this futuristic weapon is sure to have many uses in the modern world. Israel made headlines in April by field-testing an airborne anti-missile laser called the Iron Beam (a play on the Iron Dome name), a missile system it used to shoot down rockets fired from Gaza. The laser system, with a power of about 100 kW, is still not in use and has not seen combat, but one day it will be able to replace some, if not all, of the Iron Dome’s missiles with photons. Other countries have similar capabilities or say they have. In May, Russia claimed to have burned a Ukrainian drone with a laser from a distance of 5 kilometers, in a move ridiculed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Pros and Cons of Directed Energy Weapons

The missile was destroyed by a Lockheed Martin 2013 low power fiber

However, not all beam guns need to be lasers. In March, Taiwan news it has been reported that Chinese researchers have built a microwave weapon that, in principle, can be launched into orbit, from where its 5-megawatt pulses can fry the electronic heart of an enemy satellite. But building such a machine in the lab is very different from running it in the field, not to mention outer space, where supplying electricity and removing waste heat are major challenges.

Since the performance of lasers is reduced in bad weather, they cannot be relied upon to protect critical targets. Instead, they must be paired with kinetic weapons – rockets or bullets – to create a layered defense system.

“With lasers, if you can see it, you can kill it; in general, rain and snow are not a major deterrent,” says Robert Afzal, laser expert at Lockheed Martin. “But a thundercloud is hard.

Afzal says the higher the laser is placed, the less interference it will encounter, but there is a trade-off here. “With an airplane, you have the smallest amount of resources – the smallest volume, the smallest weight – available to you. On a ship, you have a lot more resources available, but you’re in a sea atmosphere that’s pretty hazy, so you might need a lot more energy to get to your target. And the army is in the middle: they deal with closer threats like rockets and mortars, and they need a deep magazine because they deal with a lot more targets.”

In any case, the point is to use expensive anti-missiles only when necessary. Israel has chosen to go into laser weapons in part because its Iron Dome missiles are much more expensive than the unguided, mostly homemade missiles they defend against. Some of the military drones currently in use by Russia and Ukraine won’t break the budget of the more affluent hobbyist. And it would be truly a Pyrrhic victory to shoot them from the sky with shells so expensive that you went bankrupt.

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