As militaries around the world race to develop powerful combat lasers, the Pentagon has something else in mind. It wants to destroy those lasers. The U.S. military worries that high-energy laser (appropriately known as HEL) weapons can destroy or damage surveillance satellites, sensors, aircraft, and vehicles or injure personnel. Despite challenges, such as generating sufficient electrical power, the era of the combat laser is coming soon. The U.S. and German navies are developing laser cannon for their warships; Russia might mount a laser gun for its next-generation jet fighter; and the U.S. Army wants to deploy laser-armed Stryker armored vehicles by 2022.
The advent of combat lasers “has been driven by demand for industrial cutting machines and high-bandwidth, long-range telecommunications,” notes the research announcement by DARPA, the Pentagon’s pet research agency. “These same laser materials and devices can also be used by directed energy weapons for both destructive and deteriorating effects (such as temporary blinding or degrading electro-optical/infrared [EO/IR] sensors). Adversary HEL weapons can rapidly detect, track, engage, and achieve near-instantaneous effects to degrade or destroy U.S. and allied targets. Furthermore, the reduced size, weight, and power (SWAP) of HEL weapons enable highly mobile systems.”