Force Magazine

Dazzle and Destroy

India has to buck up its development of DEW technology to match China

Prasun K. Sengupta

New-generation mobile, high-energy solid-state laser-based directed-energy weapons (DEW) are fast emerging as cost-effective counter-rocket, counter-artillery, counter-PGM, counter-UAV, counter-IED and counter-mortar systems. This is because a chemical or gas-dynamic or fibre-laser beam destroys targets with pinpoint precision within seconds of acquisition, then acquires the next target and keeps firing.


Such DEWs will, thus, augment existing kinetic strike weapons like surface-to-air missiles and offer significant reductions in cost per engagement. With only the cost of diesel fuel, a high-energy laser-based DEW system can fire repeatedly without expending valuable munitions or additional manpower. Target destruction is achieved by projecting a highly focused, high-power solid-state laser beam, with enough energy to affect the target, and explode it in mid-air. This operational concept is, thus, for the very first time offering the first ‘reusable’ interception element. Existing interceptors use kinetic energy kill vehicles (such as blast-fragmentation warheads), which are not reusable.

Presently, DEWs using fibre-lasers for anti-ship cruise missile defence are being developed worldwide for warships, while chemical lasers are being developed for local and area air-defence. At the highest end are free-electron lasers (FEL) and chemical oxygen-iodine lasers (COIL) that are typically used as anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons for destroying low-earth orbiting overhead reconnaissance satellites and the incoming multiple independently manoeuvrable warheads of ballistic missiles (i.e. ballistic missile defence, or BMD). As it is in these areas that the US and India last month decided to explore joint R&D opportunities, with special emphasis on ‘atmospheric sciences for high-energy lasers’.

Since the previous decade, both the US and India, along with Japan, have expressed collective concern over China developing ‘disruptive and destructive’ counter-space capabilities, and during the first Space Security Dialogue held in New Delhi in March 2015, the US sought deeper cooperation with India, especially with regard to the collective establishment of rules-of-the-road for outer-space activities. Underlining that threats to space services are increasing as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counter-space capabilities, Frank Rose, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, had then stated that Chinese military writings highlight the need to interfere with, damage and destroy reconnaissance navigation and communication satellites.

“China has satellite-jamming capabilities and is pursuing a full suite of anti-satellite systems,” Rose had said. Noting that both the US and India have an interest in maintaining long-term sustainability of the space environment, he had said: “Let me also be very clear, the US remains concerned about China’s continued development and testing of anti-satellite weapons. Period”. He added that China was moving forward with the development of full-spectrum capability and had conducted destructive ASAT tests with kinetic kill-vehicles on 11 January 2007, plus two previous direct-ascent tests that intentionally did not result in an intercept, on July 7, 2005 and 6 February 2006. Another kinetic-kill ASAT test was conducted on 11 January 2012 and three more followed on 27 January 2013; 13 May 2013; and 23 July 2014.

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