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Directed-energy weapon

Definition A directed-energy weapon (DEW) is a ranged weapon system that damages or destroys its targets with highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves and particle beams. Potential applications of this technology include weapons that target personnel, missiles, vehicles, and optical devices. It is a type of weapon that emits energy in an aimed direction without […]


A directed-energy weapon (DEW) is a ranged weapon system that damages or destroys its targets with highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves and particle beams. Potential applications of this technology include weapons that target personnel, missiles, vehicles, and optical devices. It is a type of weapon that emits energy in an aimed direction without the means of a projectile.

Key Takeaways

  1. A Directed-energy weapon (DEW) emits highly focused energy, transferring that energy to a target to damage it. The types of energy utilized can vary, ranging from electromagnetic radiation, such as lasers and microwaves, to particle beams.
  2. DEWs are characterized by their extreme speed and accuracy. They are capable of hitting targets at the speed of light and can be directed precisely. Thus, they offer a high degree of controllability, able to limit damage to specific targets.
  3. In terms of applications, DEWs are projected to be used for missile defense, electronic warfare, and combat scenarios. However, there are also concerns over their potential misuse and the ethical implications surrounding the deployment of such weapons.


Directed-energy weapons (DEW) hold significant importance in military operations due to their potential to revolutionize warfare. DEWs emit highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves, or particle beams, towards a target, causing physical damage or functional disruption.

They can be deployed as defensive tools, to intercept threats, or as offensive weapons, to directly target enemy assets. The importance of DEWs lies in their precision, speed of light delivery, reusable nature, and lower cost per shot relative to traditional weaponry.

They increase a military’s capacity to effectively neutralize threats while minimizing collateral damage. Thus, the development and integration of DEWs can have profound implications for future military strategies and defense systems.


Directed-Energy Weapons (DEWs) are an emerging category of advanced weaponry that emit highly focused energy attaining operational purpose, including damaging or destroying enemy equipment, facilities, or personnel. Their purpose is to allow a nation’s military to engage enemies at significant distances, with instantaneous effect and extreme precision, thereby minimizing collateral damage.

Molecular and subatomic levels are manipulated to create immensely powerful energy beams that can be directed towards the target. DEWs are primarily intended to do one of three things: degrade (reduce the functionality), neutralize (render something ineffective), or destroy (completely eliminate). Various types of DEWs currently in development or in use include lasers, high power microwaves, and particle beams.

The purpose of these weapons extends to capabilities such as missile defence, electronic warfare, and precision attacks against land, air, space, and sea-based targets, often when conventional weapons may not prove effective or efficient. Therefore, these innovative weapons could potentially revolutionize the face of warfare, making combat more humane, less destructive, and more strategic.

Examples of Directed-energy weapon

Active Denial Systems (ADS): This non-lethal directed-energy weapon is developed by U.S. Department of Defense for crowd control. It emits a high-frequency microwave beam which causes a painful heat sensation, forcing people to move away from the source. It is designed for riot or mob control and for securing perimeters.

Laser Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC): Developed by the U.S. Army, this weapon uses a laser to form an electrically conductive laser-induced plasma channel (LIPC). A powerful electric current is sent down this plasma channel and delivered to the target, significantly disrupting its electronics or in some cases can cause a shock to living organisms too.

PHASR Rifle: Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHASR) is a non-lethal handheld weapon developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. It uses a laser dazzler to disorient and temporarily blind its target.It’s important to note that the application and development of these weapons are subject to international laws and treaties.

FAQs about Directed-Energy Weapons

What is a directed-energy weapon?

A directed-energy weapon (DEW) is a ranged weapon system that damages its target with highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves, and particle beams. They can be used in a range of scenarios from disabling electronic systems to physical destruction.

What are the types of directed-energy weapons?

There are several types of directed-energy weapons, most notably: High Energy Lasers (HEL), High-Powered Microwaves (HPM), and Charged Particle Beams (CPB). Each type has unique characteristics in terms of range, energy type, and effect.

What is the potential impact of directed-energy weapons in modern warfare?

Directed-energy weapons can complement traditional weapons to provide a greater range of options in conflict situations. For instance, they could potentially provide a rapid, precise, and scalable means of responding to a threat, from merely disabling to complete destruction. Their application can lead to new strategies and tactics in modern warfare.

Are directed-energy weapons in use today?

Yes, several nations, including the U.S., are working on directed-energy weapons. Some of these technologies are already in use. One well-known example is the Active Denial System (ADS), which is a non-lethal, directed-energy weapon developed by the U.S. military for crowd control.

What are the ethical concerns related to directed-energy weapons?

Like any weaponry, the use of directed-energy weapons raises ethical concerns. As they can be used for non-lethal purposes, there’s a risk of misuse or excessive use. Additionally, as a relatively new technology, there may be effects that are not yet fully understood, raising questions about the proportionality and discrimination of their use in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • High-Energy Laser: this term relates to the type of energy used in directed-energy weapons. It involves the use of concentrated light in harming or destroying targets.
  • Microwave Weapon: another type of directed-energy weapon that uses microwaves to damage or disable equipment or personnel.
  • Electromagnetic Spectrum: the scientific concept crucial to the functioning of directed-energy weapons, as they exploit different frequencies of the spectrum.
  • Particle Beam: this is another form of directed-energy weapons that utilize charged or neutral particles directed at high speeds to damage targets.
  • Non-Lethal Weapons: an application of directed-energy weapons aimed at incapacitating personnel or equipment without causing permanent harm or destruction.

Sources for More Information

  • DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) – An agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
  • Department of Defense – The official website of the U.S. Department of Defense, a comprehensive resource for exploring detailed information about military operations and technologies.
  • RAND Corporation – A research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure.
  • Lockheed Martin – A global security and aerospace company that researches, designs, develops, manufactures, integrates and sustains advanced technology systems, products and services, including directed-energy weapons.

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