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Executive Summary: DIRECTED ENERGY WEAPONS: RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND UTILIZATION

Updated: Jun 17

Anastasios Giannakis, Ethan Wacaster, Weapons/Tactics (W/T) Team

Week of Monday, May 31, 2021


Light Dragoons Firepower on Warcop Ranges[1]


China and Russia have developed several new technologies in recent years that might threaten the supremacy of the US in the military sphere, including Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs). These weapons systems belong to the category of "non-lethal weapons,'' which complement the conventional ones and, in many cases, even replace them and are available in technologically advanced countries. DEWs use beams of intense energy to target people, vehicles, and other weapons to disable or destroy them, which can be in the form of lasers, radiation, microwave, and sound. The principle of operation of guided energy weapons is the concentration of energy in small rays or microwaves and the concentration of energy at a point for the destruction of the electronic equipment of the battle platform. China's and Russia’s willingness to rapidly develop emerging technologies on a massive scale means that it is highly likely their military will quickly reap the benefits of any scientific progress and potential military operation, despite the US efforts to respectively advance such weapons so that it can face its competitors.


China has been working on several different types of DEWs, the most prominent of which is the anti-satellite weapon system (ASAT) that will use a beam of energy to disable the satellite. China, in recent years, has been working on perfecting this weapon and has utilized it against the US in 2006 to strike US satellites in orbit.[2] If China were able to perfect this weapon, it could be used to take out any military or intelligence satellites in orbit, causing an increase in tensions between all countries involved. In addition, at the International Aerospace Exhibition in Moscow in 2019, China’s Aerospace Science and Industry Company demonstrated the LW-30 laser weapon system, which could use high-energy emitted lasers to instantly track and intercept various aerial targets from photoelectric guidance equipment to aircraft, guided bombs, and mortar shells.[3] For instance, utilizing this weapon in any potential military operations in the South China Sea, where China is particularly aggressive in the recent months deploying more forces, would be highly efficient for the defense and protection of its already militarized artificial islands in these disputed waters, and for encountering the US navy armed forces.


Furthermore, microwave weapons are widely used in China's large surface warships. For example, Type 055 is equipped with a high-power microwave launcher (HPM) missile system, which combines microwave weapons with indoor pistols and defense missiles to form a complete missile network.[4] Undoubtedly, China is one of the most important competing forces that the US has to face, not only economically and commercially, but also in armaments. The advanced weapons systems of both countries seek to gain the upper hand so that the technological advantage becomes a victory lead on the battlefield in a possible US-China war. China's State Broadcasting Corporation (CCTV) has released footage showing a new system of guided energy weapons or the Chinese laser weapon, but details of the development of this new weapon were not disclosed.[5] According to identified sources, the system was designed to immediately eliminate offshore enemy threats, such as small boats, warships, and unmanned vehicles and aircrafts.[6] However, the Chinese Type 055 equipped with the microwave launcher and integrated electric power plant is highly likely to be used against low-level asymmetric threats and, if successful, will likely be made part of the People's Liberation Army Navy arsenal, as it is expected that the new system could have escalating levels of power, depending on the purpose it seeks to achieve, whether it is preventing suspicious forces or destroying enemy targets.


On November 11, 2020, there were claims by the expert Jin Canrong that the Chinese PLA soldiers had used DEWs (laser weapons) against the duration of clashes at the Ladakh border.[7] According to these claims, the Chinese military made innovative use of high-powered microwave weapons when Indian soldiers were in control of Ladakh peaks. The army was able to emit microwaves from the mountain base to the top of the mountain, where the Indian soldiers took up positions, turning it into an 'oven,' causing the Indian soldiers to withdraw from their dominant positions quickly.[8] Such an incident demonstrates that a direct energy attack is impossible or difficult to be prevented and proves that the utilization of DEWs is effective for secret military missions.


Another incident identifying the utilization of DEWs was when US diplomats posted in China and Cuba, who have been reported to experience severe headaches, memory loss, dizziness, hearing loud noises, and then loss of hearing, balance and concentration problems, along with concussion symptoms and other issues since early 2016. The mysterious condition became unofficially known as "Havana Syndrome," and it is suspected that these officials were attacked with laser weapons and guided microwaves.[9] A recent report claimed that a CIA investigation revealed that Russian agents were using a secret laser weapon to inflict brain damage on US spies and diplomats worldwide - even on US soil.[10] The waves helped implant information errors in the embassy walls, paving the way for US intelligence to infiltrate Russian communications networks. Moreover, the US is investigating attacks in Syria in 2021 that appear to have the characteristics of directed energy strikes against US troops, which appear to be mysteriously ill in Syria, and the Pentagon suspects Russia.[11] If true, this would mean that DEWs could be utilized in areas where Russia wants to be involved and still stay undetected and could be rapidly advanced further to be deployed for the major attack in a conflict as they can disable almost the entire personnel of the troops.


Along with China, Russia is also making plans to develop DEWs. Some of the weapons that Russia is pursuing include laser weapons, radio-electric weapons, and sonic weapons.[12] The Peresvet, a mobile laser system mounted to a truck, targets satellites and attempts to blind or dazzle them. It does this to keep the satellites from collecting intelligence such as geographical images.[13] Russia is also working on an electronic countermeasures system called Khibiny. This system can be mounted on aircraft and other vehicles and interrupts the electronic system of an opposing target. The Russian military claims to have used this weapon in 2014 against the USS Donald Cook; however, there is no actual evidence that this took place.[14] While the claims of its use have not been substantiated, Russia is continuing to develop the weapon and mount it on its aircraft.[15] It is expected that these systems will momentarily disrupt the electronics of a targeted vessel or vehicle, but it is unlikely to cause severe impacts. If Russia did develop this weapon to be as effective as hoped, it could prove nearly impossible for the US and its allies to track aircraft, thus giving Russia an advantage. If Russia were to gain a military advantage over the US and its allies, the nation would likely be more willing to launch military action in Eastern Europe.


Having to face the irrespective advances of its competitors, the US is making rapid progress in developing DEWs. Many variants of weapons have already been developed on surface ships and may be installed on aircraft soon. The US has developed energy weapons that work in a targeted manner as well. This year, the country sent various types of weapons, High Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS), PHASER High-Power Microwave Weapon, and Tactical High Power Operational Responsonder (THOR), to protect its bases mostly from drone attacks. The PHASER High-Power Microwave Weapon is mounted on a Polaris MRZR vehicle, functions as a microwave radar transmitter, and is deployed over shipping containers.[16] HELWS are utilized to destroy UAVs and are remotely controlled.[17] The third weapon, the THOR, is the US Air Force Research Laboratory product and was developed to function as a reverse swarm electromagnetic weapon. The US is progressing in the DEWs arms race along with China and Russia, and these weapons will likely replace the conventional ones at a greater level in the following years.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has been and will continue to keep track of emerging weapons and weapon development by countries worldwide. The Weapons and Tactics (W/T) Team is closely monitoring all the current arms races between significant states and will continue to detect and analyze any threats posed by the advancements on systems like the Directed Energy Weapons. ________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]Light Dragoons Firepower on Warcop Ranges” by Defence Images licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

[2] China may deploy anti-satellite laser weapons next year able to destroy U.S. military satellites, Military & Aerospace Electronics, February 2019, https://www.militaryaerospace.com/trusted-computing/article/16711585/china-may-deploy-antisatellite-laser-weapons-next-year-able-to-destroy-us-military-satellites

[3] China Displays Laser Weapon at MAKS 2019, Defense World, August 2019, https://www.defenseworld.net/news/25368/China_Displays_Laser_Weapon_at_MAKS_2019#.YLthpZC_wVE

[4] China launches Type 055 Super Destroyer, Defence Forum India, June 2017, https://defenceforumindia.com/threads/china-launches-type-055-super-destroyer-warzone.79438/

[5] China Tests Laser Weapon Similar to US Navy Prototype, The Maritime Executive, April 2019, https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/china-tests-laser-weapon-similar-to-u-s-navy-prototype

[6] China's Type 055 Super Destroyer Is A Reality Check The US And Its Allies, The Drive, June 2017, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/11941/chinas-type-055-super-destroyer-is-a-reality-check-for-the-us-and-its-allies

[7] Chinese PLA Troops Used “Laser Weapons” Against Indian Soldiers in Ladakh, The Eurasian Times, November 2020, https://eurasiantimes.com/chinese-pla-troops-used-laser-weapons-against-indian-soldiers-in-ladakh-chinese-expert-watch/

[8] Ibid

[9] ‘Havana Syndrome’ likely caused by pulsed microwave energy, government study finds, NBC News, December 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/all/havana-syndrome-likely-caused-microwave-energy-government-study-finds-n1250094

[10] Ibid

[11] US troops in Syria seem to be getting hit with directed-energy attacks, and the Pentagon suspects Russia is doing it, report says, Business Insider, April 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/pentagon-suspects-russia-directed-energy-attacks-us-troops-syria-report-2021-4?amp

[12] A farewell to traditional arms: Russia develops weapons for the future, Russia Beyond, July 2017, https://www.rbth.com/defence/2017/07/12/a-farewell-to-traditional-arms-russia-develops-weapons-for-the-future_801080

[13] Peresvet: a Russian mobile laser system to dazzle enemy satellites, The Space Review, June 2020, https://www.thespacereview.com/article/3967/1

[14] Fake Russian EW attack unmasked, Defense Systems, May 2017, https://defensesystems.com/articles/2017/05/12/fakeew.aspx

[15] Russia's Su-34 Strike Fighter Is All Killer, The National Interest, November 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/russias-su-34-strike-fighter-all-killer-171934

[16] The Air Force Is Deploying Its First Drone-killing Microwave Weapon, Popular Mechanics, September 2019, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a29198555/phaser-weapon-air-force/

[17] High-Energy Laser Weapon Systems, Aerospace & Defense, June 2020, https://www.aerodefensetech.com/component/content/article/adt/features/articles/37108

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