DRDO plans Star Wars-style weapons for battles of future
The future weapon system that is likely to change the course of war is the Directed Energy Weapon (DEW), which is created on electromagnetic pulse effects, in addition to a variety of other means, without a nuclear blast.* DEWs can be termed as the apex in weapons technology innovatory, apt for dealing with all kinds of asymmetric challenges, including unmanned and light aircraft. DEWs are capable of destroying a target by emitting and transferring extreme levels of energy towards the target. The energy emitted by DEWs can be available in the form of electromagnetic radiation, microwaves, lasers and masers, and particles with mass.* DEWs encompass two distinct fields; high-energy lasers and high power microwaves.
Using laser beams and other concentrated sources, DEWs are the future in so far as military laser (acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”) technologies are concerned. Of these, laser weapons by far lead the DEWs pack. The precision of a laser beam weapon is unrivalled primarily owing to its speed, akin to that of light. DEWs are fast racing towards being the most sought after option in comparison to conventional projectile weapons including missile systems, given their accuracy as mentioned earlier, and the range of these weapons, which is far greater than any conventional munitions.
The applicability of laser weapons, more specifically against aerial and naval targets is significant, although the range is subject to meeting certain vital variables including atmospheric conditions and availability of power. Laser weapons can produce a series of strikes, which can be limited only by its power supply. From a military application point of view, a laser weapon is required to generate at the least, a 100-Kilowatt beam. More importantly, for targeting anti-ship missiles, the laser device is required to generate at least one Megawatt of power.
The DRDO has been working on several DEW projects for long, ranging from ‘chemical oxygen iodine’ and ‘high-power fibre’ lasers to a secretive ‘Kali’ particle-beam weapon for ‘soft-kills’ against incoming missiles and aircraft.
But they are nowhere near becoming operational. The need for a focussed approach on DEWs has now gained urgency amid the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
DRDO has so far developed two anti-drone DEW systems, which will now be productionised in large numbers with the help of the industry. While one is a trailer-mounted DEW, with a 10 kilowatt laser to engage aerial targets at 2-km range, the other is a compact tripod-mounted one with a 2 kilowatt laser for a 1-km range.
Successfully demonstrated to the armed forces, intelligence agencies and police forces in field operations, the two systems can bring down micro drones by either jamming their command and control links or damaging their electronics through the laser-based DEW, officials said.
These indigenous systems, however, are extremely modest compared to the much more powerful DEWs developed by countries like the US, Russia, China, Germany and Israel to destroy multiple drones, vehicles and boats.
The US, for instance, tested a 33 kilowatt laser weapon from a warship to shoot down drones several years ago. More recently, in May, the US Navy tested a new ‘high-energy solid-state laser’ to disable a drone aircraft in mid-air. The US, in fact, may be just four to five years away from deploying 300 to 500 kilowatt DEWs capable of shooting down cruise missiles.
The Indian defence establishment’s technological roadmap for the next decade says the Army and IAF need at least 20 ‘tactical high-energy laser systems’ that can destroy ‘small aerial targets’, electronic warfare and radars systems at a range of 6-8 km in Phase-I.
In Phase-II, the laser systems should have a range of over 20 km to take on ‘soft-skinned’ vehicles and troops from ground and aerial platforms. Similarly, at least 20 high-power electromagnetic weapon systems are required for the forces, with 6-8 km range in Phase-I and over 15-km in Phase-II.
As reported by TOI last month, the ongoing Army study on ‘niche and disruptive warfare technologies’ has identified DEWs as one of the focus areas, with General M M Naravane stressing the need to invest heavily in such futuristic tools. But it will take a lot for such concentrated energy weapons to become an operational reality.