Why is this critical?

There is growing interest in directed power weapons from quite a few nations — such as the US — mainly for anti-drone missions. These weapons use electromagnetic power to lead to effects ranging from deterrence to destruction. They supply capabilities that traditional weapons may possibly not, but challenges have so far prevented widespread operational use.


What is that? Directed Power Weapons (DEVs) use concentrated electromagnetic power to combat enemy forces and assets. These weapons consist of higher-power lasers and other higher-energy electromagnetics—such as higher-energy millimeter-wave and microwave weapons. In contrast to weapons that fire bullets or projectiles, DEVs can respond to a threat in a assortment of strategies. For instance, they can temporarily degrade the electronics on the drone or physically destroy it. See our 2022 Spotlight for far more on anti-drone technologies.

How does it function? Every single sort of DEV utilizes a distinct location of ​​the electromagnetic spectrum (see Figure 1). This spectrum describes all sorts of light—including these invisible to the human eye—and classifies them by wavelength. Diverse sorts of electromagnetic power have distinct properties. For instance, wavelength impacts what the directed power can penetrate—such as metal or human skin.

Figure 1. Position of directed power tools on the electromagnetic spectrum.

All DEVs emit power at the speed of light and are usually referred to in terms of their energy output – the quantity of electromagnetic power transmitted more than time. When DEVs use electromagnetic power equivalent to each day objects, such as household microwave ovens, their energy output is considerably larger, as described beneath.

Higher power lasers they make a pretty narrow beam of light, generally in the infrared to visible area, and are generally applied on 1 target at a time. The beam can be pulsed or continuous, creating an output energy of at least 1 kilowatt. This output is 200,000 instances that of a common laser pointer and is capable of melting steel.

Millimeter wave weapon they have wavelengths involving 1 and ten millimeters and produce far more than 1 kilowatt of power. Millimeter wave weapons have a bigger beam size than higher power lasers and hence can influence many targets at when.

A higher powered microwave weapon they make microwaves, which have longer wavelengths than higher-power lasers and millimeter-wave weapons. This weapon can make far more than one hundred megawatts of energy, which is just about 150,000 instances far more highly effective than the typical household microwave oven. Like millimeter wave weapons, they can also influence many targets due to their bigger beam size.

Every single DEV can make a variety of effects from non-lethal to lethal, based on elements such as time on target, distance to target, and even the aspect of the target the DEV is focused on. DEVs can use this variety of effects to incrementally respond to the threat. An incremental response could start with temporarily stopping the use of the asset or its access to an location and escalate to destruction of the asset if important (see Figure two).

Figure two. Examples of graded responses applying directed power weapons.

ROSE can to deny getting into the location or stopping enemy forces or assets from operating inside the location. DEVs applied for denial do not lead to extended-term harm to targets, and when enemy forces or assets leave the location, they generally regain function or the impact is mitigated. For instance, the Division of Defense (DOD) Active Denial Method utilizes millimeter waves that interact with water and fat molecules in a person’s skin to produce a heating sensation. Throughout testing, discomfort convinced folks to move away from the location.

ROSE can as well degrade effectiveness of enemy assets. For instance, higher-power lasers can temporarily overwhelm a individual or a sensor’s capacity to see or really feel by emitting a glare – so-referred to as. brilliantly. Blinding can act as a non-verbal warning prior to resorting to elevated force.

If far more force is required, so can DEV harm or destroy enemy assets. To do this, a higher-power laser can emit electromagnetic power with a wavelength most efficiently absorbed by the target material, melting the material. The laser could concentrate on a sensor and harm the drone, or it could concentrate on a fuel tank or battery and destroy it.

How ripe is it? DEVs variety in maturity from investigation projects to field-tested prototypes. The Division of Defense has identified ROS as a technologies crucial to enabling the 2018 National Defense Approach and has reported spending about $1 billion annually more than the previous three years on investigation and improvement. The US military has been testing several DEV prototypes considering the fact that 2014, mainly for anti-drone missions. For instance, the Air Force’s Higher Energy Tactical Microwave Operational Response (THOR) prototype not too long ago completed two years of testing. The Division of Defense is exploring strategies to improve the DEV’s energy output to engage far more highly effective targets — like missiles. Even so, as the GAO not too long ago reported, the US military faces challenges bridging the gap involving DEV improvement and acquisition, potentially limiting widespread operational use.

Why now? DEV investigation and improvement has been going on for decades in lots of nations — such as the US — and is at present on the rise worldwide. This improve stems in aspect from advances in technologies and a need to stay competitive on the battlefield. Technological innovations, such as the improvement of smaller sized lasers that are safer to operate, enable contemporary DEVs to be significantly far more transportable and sensible. For instance, a 4-wheeled all-terrain car can now hold a higher-power laser highly effective adequate to harm drones. The US and 30 other nations are building DEVs, largely for anti-drone missions, according to a 2021 Air Force report.


  • Replenishment of traditional weapons. DEVs use power fired at the speed of light, generating them more quickly and potentially less costly per shot than missiles. Some DEVs have practically limitless ammo and can fire as extended as they have energy.
  • Gradual response ease. DOD can customize DEV to meet mission desires from non-lethal to lethal responses. For instance, the longer the laser is focused on a target, the far more harm or destruction will happen.
  • Promotion of other utilizes. DEV investigation and improvement can also be effective for civilian use. For instance, the improvement of larger-power lasers could assist projects that use directed power to transport or “transmit” power to remote and inhospitable areas.


  • Technological limitations. DEVs are usually much less powerful the additional they are from the target, and atmospheric situations and cooling specifications can limit their effectiveness. For instance, fog and storms can lower the variety and good quality of the laser beam.
  • Use on the battlefield. Choices about how and when to use DEV or traditional weapons can be difficult. For instance, a wider-beam DEV such as a higher-powered microwave or millimeter-wave weapon impacts all assets in the location, buddy or foe.
  • Ethical and overall health troubles. While there are potentially relevant international laws and recommendations, their applicability to DEV is not often effectively defined. Uncertainty about the extended-term overall health effects of DEV on men and women intentionally or unintentionally exposed to directed power has led to issues about the ethics of applying DEV.

Policy context and troubles

  • As the technologies matures, what actions could policymakers take to assist bridge the gap involving DEV improvement and procurement?
  • What actions could policymakers take to make sure that there are acceptable recommendations for the use of DEV as the technologies matures?
  • What are the trade-offs of applying non-lethal DEV technologies prior to the prospective overall health effects are totally understood?

For far more details, speak to: Brian Bothwell at (202) 512-6888 or bothvellb@gao.gov.

By Editor

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