SOCOM Prepares to Test Airborne Directed Energy Weapon

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July 17, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: July 17 on

On a cloudy night in the future, special operators are conducting a nighttime raid on an enemy compound. A mission commander aboard an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship sets his sights on a target.

Using a high-energy laser, he aims and shoots at an electrical transformer, the engine of a pick-up truck, communication equipment stacked near the compound’s front door, and a drone sitting in the courtyard.

“Without the slightest bang, whoosh, thump, explosion, or even aircraft engine hum, four key targets are permanently disabled. The enemy has no communications, no escape vehicle, no electrical power and no retaliatory” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, as he relayed the story.

“Minutes later, the team emerges from the compound, terrorist mastermind in hand. A successful raid,” he said.

The imagined scenario — which Webb described at a recent directed energy summit in Washington, D.C. — is 100 percent feasible and realistic, he said. Such technology — alongside other emerging concepts such as tactical off-board sensors — will be ready soon and will change how AFSOC conducts offensive missions, he added.

The directed energy weapon is “rapidly moving” from the conceptual to the practical, he said in late March. Webb recently visited MIT Lincoln Labs to view its advancements, and saw Naval Sea Systems Command Dahlgren’s latest efforts to network all of the various components within the aircraft.

He was impressed by the improvements that had been made.