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A laser is a device that emits a beam of coherent light through an optical amplification process. There are many types of lasers including gas lasers, fiber lasers, solid state lasers, dye lasers, diode lasers and excimer lasers. All of these laser types share a basic set of components.

Laser Components

  1. Gain medium capable of sustaining stimulated emission

  2. Energy source to pump the gain medium

  3. Total reflector to reflect energy

  4. Partial reflector

  5. Laser beam output

The gain medium and resonator determine the wavelength of the laser beam and the power of the laser.

Directed Energy

In their Electronic Warfare publication the Department of Defense (DOD) defines a directed-energy weapon this way: “DE is an umbrella term covering technologies that produce a beam of concentrated EM energy or atomic or subatomic particles.”

“A DE weapon is a system using DE primarily as a direct means to damage or destroy adversary equipment, facilities, and personnel. DE warfare is military action involving the use of DE weapons, devices, and countermeasures to either cause direct damage or destruction of adversary equipment, facilities, and personnel, or to determine, exploit, reduce, or prevent hostile use of the EMS through damage, destruction, and disruption.”


The two basic types of DEWs include lasers and microwaves. Microwaves and lasers are both part of the electromagnetic spectrum. They’re made of the same electromagnetic energy which consists of light and radio waves.


This energy can be explained using either wavelength or frequency. The shorter the wavelength of any energy field within the spectrum, the higher its frequency is. Toward the low end of the spectrum, there are low-frequency radio waves, which are thousands of kilometers long. And at the other end of the spectrum are light waves, which can be a fraction of an atom in size.


For ease of identification, groups of consecutive frequencies within the spectrum are divided into ranges. The frequencies within these ranges may overlap, which makes determining which range a frequency belongs in more difficult. Because lasers have a shorter wavelength than microwaves, they vibrate at a higher frequency. Lasers and microwaves are merely different aspects of the exact same energy. The only difference between them is their frequency.


Another consideration is power. A high-powered microwave (HPM) and microwave oven both operate on the same frequency/wavelength. The only difference between them is the power level. Similarly, a laser pen and a high-powered laser have the same frequency, but the power level of a high-powered laser is much greater.


The concept of lasers, microwaves, and other types of DEWs using the exact same energy field, but at different frequencies, will help clarify how a single weapon can be used to exploit different frequencies of energy to produce microwave, laser, and other effects. This feature makes them rheostatic (scalable or tunable).


Microwave weapons consist of basically two major technologies. First are the millimeter wave devices which can be focused on a target at great distances and produce a burning sensation. An example of this is the Active Denial System (ADS). The second is the electromagnetic bomb (e-bomb), which can destroy electronic circuitry, communications networks, and harm organic matter at a distance, with a non-nuclear electromagnetic explosion (pulse).


Lasers consist of two basic groups. Low-energy lasers which can be used to disrupt vision, and high-powered lasers which can be used on people and material. So, both lasers and HPM can be used for counter personnel as well as counter material purposes.


DEWs are subject to diffraction, which is basically the reduction of focused power caused by the dispersal of their energy in the atmosphere. The shorter the wavelength, the less diffraction occurs.


Laser wavelengths are about 10,000 times smaller than microwaves. Therefore, they are more suitable for accuracy at long distances, because they diffract 10,000 times less. Diffraction can be used to the advantage of the operator. For instance, if a large area needed to be irradiated, high-powered microwaves could accomplish this, such as the e-bomb.


DEWs offer the following capabilities:

They have pinpoint accuracy.
They offer a low cost per use and maintenance.
They have a virtually unlimited magazine capacity.
They are simple to track, aim and shoot with sophisticated sensors.
They are less lethal if tuned properly.
They can operate in all weather conditions.
They can engage multiple targets.
They limit collateral damage.
Their energy travels at the speed of light.
Their energy can pass through walls at distances of hundreds of meters or even miles.
They are silent and offer plausible deniability of their use.


In addition, they are scalable, which means a single weapon can be configured to produce a multitude of effects by adjusting its power or frequency. Some include tiredness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, convulsions, epileptic seizures, and temporary paralysis.


Other effects include: vibration of internal organs, cooking of internal organs, cataracts, burning sensations, controlled heating of the entire body to produce hyperthermia or fever, headaches, and a loss of short-term memory or cognitive processes. They can even be tuned to cause death by cardiac arrest or cancer. This energy can be transmitted accurately for long distances (in some cases many miles). Some can pass through most unshielded structures with little difficulty. And their use is virtually undetectable by casual observation.


These weapons are mounted on platforms, which have been described as physical structures that are used to support or deliver the weapons. A weapons platform can be a missile, aircraft, ship, vehicle, etc. Other platforms evidently exist, as described by the Journal of California Law Enforcement, which revealed in January of 2002 that not only can an HPM can be built into a van, but highly portable suitcase-sized weapons and ones that resemble radios exist. Such weapons, the Journal tells us, offer covert qualities and the deniability of use.


It’s no longer necessary to place a military force or an assassin near a target due to the invention of these weapons. “The advantage of directed energy weapons over conventional ones is deniability,” agreed Metz and Kievit, which “must be aimed at the American people, who do not sanction the imprisonment, much less execution, of individuals without a trial.”


Tracking & Fire Control


Most directed-energy weapons require an acquisition, tracking, pointing, and fire control (ATP/FC) system. Much research on FTP/FC was done by the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) for the Space-Based Laser (SBL) program, which began in the mid 1980s and continues to this day.


ATP/FC systems allow a DEW to engage a large number of targets by placing a directed-energy beam on the aimpoint of each target. There are broad sensors which detect general activities, and refined sensors which provide a more accurate view of the target. These sensors are usually low-powered infrared lasers which propagate well through the atmosphere.


Wide-area (broad) sensors are used to detect certain activities, which are then passed to the more refined sensors which may be linked by computer to a decisionmaking algorithm. Information is passed from the broader sensors to the more accurate ones in succession. All of these sensors may be autonomous (self-directing).


Different sensors are used during the multiple phases, which include acquisition, tracking, pointing, and fire control. For instance, for a missile, infrared sensors would detect the heat signature of the missile during the acquisition phase. Another sensor would determine its flight path during the tracking phase. In the pointing phase, yet another sensor would locate a specific point on the missile and fire an energy beam to that point.


Then during the fire control phase, the results of the hit are transmitted back to the FTP/FC unit for assessment. At this time a computer algorithm containing pre-programmed sets of instructions may determine the next course of action based on the results. Then the next target is selected and the process begins again. Some systems include a feature which allows them to prioritize targets.


In its 1984 directed-energy plan, the SDI included the development of ATP/FC systems for future directed-energy weapons, including the creation of systems to track a target at a range of up to 3,000 miles within a diameter of about 4 inches. Another was to create a computer algorithm to handle the ATP/FC of at least 100 simultaneous targets at a rate of at least two shots per second, and then conduct damage assessment on each one.



Directed-energy weapons provide quick employment, deep clip capacity, scalability from lethal to non-lethal, simplified pointing and tracking, all weather capability, multiple target engagement, and long distance projection (tens of miles). They can also pass through walls without a trace. They provide surgical accuracy at the speed of light. They are also silent, and offer the military and law enforcement plausible deniability of their use.




"Controlled Effects" is one of the Air Forces ambitious long-term challenges.  The first stage is technology to remotely create physical sensations. They give the example of the Active Denial System "people zapper" which uses a high-frequency radiation similar to microwaves as a non-lethal means of crowd control. Other weapons can affect the nervous system directly. The Pulsed Energy Projectile fires a short intense pulse of laser energy. This vaporizes the outer layer of the target, creating a rapidly-expanding expanding ball of plasma. At different power levels, those expanding plasmas could deliver a harmless warning, stun the target, or disable them - all with pinpoint laser precision from a mile away.


Early reports on the effects of PEPs mentioned temporary paralysis, then thought to be related to ultrasonic shockwaves. It later became apparent that the electromagnetic pulse caused by the expanding plasma was triggering nerve cells.


Details of this emerged in a heavily-censored document released to Ed Hammond of the Sunshine Project under the Freedom if Information Act. Called Sensory consequence of electromagnetic pulsed emitted by laser induced plasmas, it described research on activating the nerve cells responsible for sensing unpleasant stimuli: heat, damage, pressure, cold. By selectively stimulating a particular nociceptor, a finely tuned PEP might sensations of say, being burned, frozen or dipped in acid -- all without doing the slightest actual harm. The skin is the easiest target for such stimulation. But, in principle, any sensory nerves could be triggered.


The Controlled Effects document suggests it may be possible to create synthetic imagesto confuse an individual' s visual sense or, in a similar manner, confuse his senses of sound, taste, touch, or smell.In other words, it may be possible to use electromagnetic means to create overwhelming 'sound' or 'light', or indeed 'intolerable smell' which would exist only in the brain of the person perceiving them.There is another side as well. The sensory consequences document also notes that the nervous system which controls muscles could be influenced to cause what they call Taser-like motor effects. --

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