The U.S. military is making an unprecedented effort to develop and use directed energy weapons, according to reports from U.S. lawmakers. The new class of weapons using laser, microwave and other directed energy technology are currently being tested by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Marine Corps.
Commander for the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, Lieutenant General William Etter, said "Directed energy brings the dawn of an entirely new era in defense."
Directed energy weapons use focused energy in the form of microwaves, lasers, radio waves, electromagnetic radiation, particle or sound beams. Although Lasers are already used to guide bombs, in the future they would be used as weapons themselves.
Etter said although work on these weapons has been going on for decades, earlier technology challenges were finally being overcome.
He said directed energy weapons could be cheaper than conventional weapons, speed up response time to attacks, and cut civilian deaths.
Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said funding for directed energy programs would be $300 million per year.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the U.S. Navy Secretary said a laser already used on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf can destroy small boats and aerial vehicles, as well as be used as a telescope. He said a an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher would be tested next year.
Mabus said Iran was already using lasers to target ships and commercial airliners which meant the U.S needed to speed up acquisition processes to ensure it stayed ahead of potential enemies.
According to the vice commander of U.S. Air Combat Command, Major General Jerry Harris, the Air Force has developed a highly-powered microwave weapon that could be used to disperse crowds without killing people by quickly raising body temperature with the weapon being able to be used on drones and/or other aircraft.