• 20 April, 2024
Geopolitics & National Security

Directed Energy Weapons: The Silent Killers

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd), Consulting Editor Defence
Mon, 28 Jun 2021   |  Reading Time: 9 minutes

Artist’s Impression of Stryker Based SHORAD LaWS: Source- news.northropgrumman.com

The evolution of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) goes back to the use of parabolic mirrors by the Greeks in © 200 BCE to set fire to Roman ships attacking the city of Syracuse. From the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, the Soviets allegedly bombarded the U.S. Embassy in Moscow with microwave radiation that resulted in numerous American officials developing severe health problems. These events became collectively known as the “Moscow Signal” attacks. Use of high power microwave DEW were also reportedly employed by the US military to disrupt and destroy Iraqi electronic/ command & control systems during the Iraq War.

More recently, certain International Dailies reported in Oct 2020 that Chinese troops in Galwan had “fired a microwave weapon” at some of the hill features under dispute, thus forcing Indian soldiers to retreat. India, however, has refuted these claims.

With such incidents as a backdrop, it needs no emphasis that in modern battlefields characterized by transparency and situational awareness, the need of the hour are systems capable of destroying or incapacitating an adversary’s combat potential with minimum signature and negligible collateral damage. No other weapon systems fit these requirements as aptly as do  DEW Systems.

What is a DEW?

          A DEW is a weapon that destroys, damages or incapacitates its target with highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves or particle beams.

Directed Energy Weapons

                             Image Source: www.dsiac.org

Types and Development of DEW

For the first half of the 20th century, development of DEW largely remained in the fictional domain, with a Star Wars  like aura! Post the Second World War, US commenced work on the development of the LASER, which was completed in the early 1960s. The last four decades have witnessed notable advancement in various types of DEW as enunciated below:-

LASER Weapon Systems (LaWS).  A BrahMos Cruise Missile, with a supersonic speed of 2.8 to 3 Mach, would take about five minutes to reach its target located at its maximum operational range of about 300km, while a LaWS, engaging at the speed of light, would hit the target in a millisecond! This makes LaWS particularly suitable for engaging fast-moving targets.  The first usage of LaWS in combat was when Turkey claimed to have used the ALKA – a  dual electromagnetic/laser weapon,  to destroy a Libyan UAV in 2019.

Directed Energy Weapons

         ALKA LaWS: Source- defenceturk.net

  • As elucidated in a previous article in Weapon Platforms @Chanakya Forum, Raytheon of the US has developed High-Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) based Counter- Unmanned Aerial System (C-UAS), recently mounted on the Apache Helicopter (https://chanakyaforum.com/drone-killers-raytheons-laser-weapon-systems/). Two scaled-up iterations- a 50-kW vehicle mounted HELWS for close-range Air Defence and a 100-kW HELWS to eliminate swarm threats are being developed. The US Navy have tested the short range (~1 mile), 30-kW  LaWS against small UAVs and surface vessels. In January, US based Lockheed Martin delivered the first unit of its High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) LaWS to the US Navy for engagement of small surface ships and drones. Subsequent power upgrades to HELIOS would enable targetting of anti-ship missiles. The US Army is also receiving the laser-based Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) System based on the Stryker Combat Vehicle. The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) is a US military program to mount a 100 kw LaWS on an aircraft, initially the AC-130 gunship, with a tactical range of 20 km. Northrop Grumman Corporation of US has been awarded a contract by the US Air Force for development of a LaWS to protect its fifth-generation fighters against incoming missiles.

Directed Energy Weapons

Russian Peresvet LASER DEW: Source- naturasigorta.com 

  • The Peresvet Optical Suppression Systems are deployed in the Russian Army. In China, lasers are fitted in tanks to neutralise optical devices. China has also developed a hand-held laser weapon for domestic law enforcement and a mobile LaWS  (LW-30) to neutralise guided bombs, shells, and drones. Australia is developing a 26 kw scalable, counter-UAV LaWS, expected to enter service this year. The UK is also reportedly progressing research on a drone mounted LaWS for maritime use. The Israeli Air Force has just tested a Cessna mounted airborne LaWS and successfully intercepted multiple drones at a range more than 1 km.

Russian Peresvet LASER DEW: Source- naturasigorta.com

           Israel’s Airborne LaWS Targetting a UAV: Source- Israel_MOD

 Microwave DEW.  Any weapon which has a microwave range between 300 MHz and 300 GHz is generally classified as a microwave weapon. These DEW disrupt electronic components and can produce graduated effects, depending upon the amount of energy that is directed. Unlike lasers, microwave frequencies are insensitive to weather and can penetrate clouds, rain, and dust. Current technological developments in the US are in the areas of Information warfare (IW)-to transmit inimical messages/ signals, suppression of enemy Air Defence (SEAD) and aircraft self-protection.  Bofors HPM Blackout is a microwave DEW that can destroy electronic equipment at short distances. Active Denial System (ADS) is  used for area denial, perimeter security and crowd control. Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio (MEDUSA) developed in the US is another example of  non-lethal microwave DEW.

Particle-Beam DEW.  Particle-beam DEW use a directed flow of charged or neutral particles as a damaging factor. In the 1970s, the US was simultaneously developing beam based devices of various kinds along with other DEW. The US Army wanted a new Air Defence system, based on particle beam weapons while the US Air Force oversaw the development of a space-based Missile Defence system for the Strategic Defense Initiative program. The Beam Experiments Aboard a Rocket (BEAR) Project was launched in New Mexico in July 1989 and successfully demonstrated propagation of a particle beam in space from an altitude of 90 km. These DEW find application against ground forces, in aviation and for targetting space- based assets. Other countries, as far as is known, have researched but have not tested this concept.

Plasma DEW.  Plasma DEW fire a beam stream of plasma, which is an excited state of matter consisting of atomic nuclei and free electrons. In the 1980s, US Military researchers discovered that a ball of superheated gas (plasma) was produced when a laser hit a target. The plasma DEW system was consequently developed to use a laser pulse that heated this plasma so rapidly that it exploded. This DEW offered long-range LASER accuracy, high rate of fire and “scalable effects,” meaning that its lethality could be adjusted. Subsequent power upgrades resulted in the more powerful  Plasma Acoustic Shield System (PASS) in 2013, which was applied to target vehicle windshields to stop drivers approaching checkpoints during the Iraq War. In September 2018, the US began a three-year project to finally produce a viable non- lethal plasma DEW- the Scalable Compact Ultra-Short Pulse Laser System (SCUPLS), which uses new short-pulse lasers.

Russian Peresvet LASER DEW: Source- naturasigorta.com

               PASS Plasma DEW Mounted on a Humvee: Source- Pinterest

Sonic DEW.  Sonic DEW use sound as a means to injure, kill or incapacitate. These DEW function in the frequency range of 1 Hz to 30. The Nazis reportedly developed a sonic cannon capable of shooting down allied bombers. In 1972 France was using infrasonic (3 to 20 Hz) generators on civilian population for crowd control. By 1973 the ‘Squawk Box’ was used by the British Army in Northern Ireland. This DEW could target specific individuals by producing audible sound. In the early 1990s Russia created a 10 Hz sonic cannon, which was adjustable up to lethal levels. The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), developed by US emits a focused beam of audible sound up to 1 km at a power level of up to 150 decibels. LRAD has been used in different countries to suppress riots and combat sea piracy.

Russian Peresvet LASER DEW: Source- naturasigorta.com

                                                 US LRAD: Source- naturasigorta.com

Directional Atom.  This idea involves the creation of a special atomic warhead that transfers most of the explosion energy in a given direction. The most famous development is the American Project Casaba, on which work began in the 1950s. The Casaba developments were proposed to be used in the Excalibur as a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system for the US. The concept involved packing large numbers of expendable X-ray lasers around a nuclear device, which would orbit in space. During an attack, the device would be detonated, with the released X-rays being focussed to destroy multiple incoming target missiles. This project is also presumably at the drawing board stage.

DEW for Missile Defence.  In the US, various Government agencies  are researching DEW and railguns to counter ballistic missiles, hypersonic cruise missiles, and hypersonic glide vehicles. These systems are expected to be fielded in current decade.

Counter-Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW) Program.  The US initiated CDEW Program was in response to the rapid development of DEW threats. Research in this field includes development of survivability and self- defence capability, including development of special filters, signal-noise mitigation and use of materials that can potentially obscure LASER/ radio waves. Techniques to synthetically degrade the atmosphere in order to attenuate adversary DEW are also being researched.

India’s DEW Development

As per the Technology Perspective and Capability RoadMap (TPCR) – 2018 for the Armed Forces, in Phase I the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force require a minimum of 20 “tactical high-energy laser systems” which are capable of causing damage/ destruction to communication/ non- communication systems at a range of 6 to 8 km. In Phase II, the demand is to have laser systems that have a range of over 20 km to target “soft-skinned” vehicles and personnel from both land and aerial platforms.

The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) had successfully tested a truck-mounted LaWS in 2018 to hit a target located 250 m away. DRDO in the next step is testing a high-powered truck mounted laser of 2kw against a target located at a distance of 1 km. DRDO had announced in September 2020, that DEW development will be a part of the National program which will have short, medium, and long term goals towards development of DEW variants. On Independence Day 2021, DRDO deployed its vehicle mounted anti-drone system with a 10 kw LaWS to engage aerial targets up to 2.5 km. A second variant is a tripod-mounted LaWS with power of 2 kw and a maximum range of 1 km.

Russian Peresvet LASER DEW: Source- naturasigorta.com

                                                 DRDO’s Anti Drone System: Source- defencexp.com

Some ongoing/ future projects include:

  • DRDO’s Counter IED 1 KW LASER – enables remote disposal of unexploded bombs, mines and IEDs. The system’s effective range is 30-250 m.
  • Kilo Ampere Linear Ejector (KALI) – a particle accelerator DEW being developed by DRDO and Bhabha Atomic Research Center. This DEW will emit powerful electron pulses aimed towards destruction of incoming missiles and aircraft by destroying on- board electronic circuits.
  • DRDO’s Laser Science and Technology Centre (LASTEC) is working on  Project Aditya under which it is developing gas dynamic high power 100 kw LaWS.
  • Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array (DURGA II), will see the Indian Army receive a 100-kilowatt, lightweight LaWS. The program is slated to be integrated with land, sea and air-based platforms and is currently reportedly in the concept stage. In addition, DRDO is also reportedly working on IR dazzlers to take on enemy aircraft and helicopters at 10 km and 25-kw LaWs to destroy missiles during their terminal phase at range of 5 to 7 km.


The drone attacks in Jammu Airbase on 27 June should be a wakeup call for India’s security establishment and the decision makers. Such attacks are likely to increase in due course as both military and non-state actors including terrorists will opt for safer and cheaper options to target critical assets or spread panic. Anti-drone systems and DEW could be the suitable answer for such future threats.

DEW provides a number of capabilities and advantages over traditional weapons due to speed-of-light delivery, precision engagement, controlled/scalable effects, logistical benefits of minimal replenishment and low cost per shot. Furthermore, DEWs are silent, offer plausible deniability, cause minimal collateral damage, can travel immense distances relative to conventional weapons and engage multiple targets. Consequently, these advantages will support the development of a wide spectrum of military equipment and capabilities.



Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) has commanded an operational Brigade and has been Brigadier- in- charge Administration in a premier training facility. He has had exposure abroad on deputation to Botswana, Southern Africa as member of an Indian Army Training Team and has had extensive exposure in mentoring of Defence Forces overseas. He possesses vast instructional experience, imparting instructions in both technical aspects and tactical application of weapon systems.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.

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Strategic Competition for Directed Energy Weapons: Repercussions for Future Warfare - Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research

Oct 26, 2022
[…] waves. The microwave range of these weapons lies between 300MHz-300GHz, with the capability to derange electronic components and to produce graduated effects. Moreover, microwave frequencies, in […]

Avinash Singh

Aug 20, 2021
awesome information all together


Jul 23, 2021
Very rapidly this website will be famous among all blog people, due to it's nice articles

Harsh behere

Jul 09, 2021
Excellent article sir, given the time when new contours of Anti-drone Tech are being assessed. DE Weapons can play a huge role against low-cost threats.


Jun 29, 2021
Future weapons are becoming more sophisticated and we are catching up with the technology. Thanks DRDO.

tushar mitra

Jun 29, 2021

Rakesh Ranjan

Jun 28, 2021
Sir, Thank you very much for this article.. its cleary help to understand us where is the gap?

shivam singh

Jun 28, 2021
what a masterpiece, covers a gamut of information about the coming weapons of the decade....and where does india stands in the current situation...

Vivek Tigga

Jun 28, 2021
concern is very dangerous

Rajan Chaudhary

Jun 28, 2021
thank DRDO to develop laser weapons and thanks chanakya forum to provide information.

Rajan Chaudhary

Jun 28, 2021
India should develop high power lasser weapons.it will be a gift for India and Indian

Ashok Tomar

Jun 28, 2021
we as usual are late. we are dependent on Israel in this matter who in turn is directed/guided by US. I am afraid that we shall have second grade equipment and technology.

satyam kumar

Jun 28, 2021
thanks sir, this article provide alote of information.. specially on lws.

Sahil Paul

Jun 28, 2021
very interesting

Arjun Jai Viren

Jun 28, 2021
Very informative article

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