Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Optimizing the Effectiveness of Directed Energy Weapons with Specialized Weather Support

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Optimizing the Effectiveness of Directed Energy Weapons with Specialized Weather Support

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: PIREP is aviation shorthand for pilot report. It's a means for one pilot to pass on current, potentially useful information to other pilots, In the same fashion, we use this department to let readers know about items of interest.

When the thunderclap comes, there is no time to cover the ears.

-Sun Tzu

ACCURATE CHARACTERIZATION of the atmosphere is essential to maximizing the use of directed en- ergy (DE) weapons. Developing, procuring, and sustaining such weapons has been and will continue to be difficult; there- fore, it is imperative that they achieve opti- mum effe ct when employed. The atmosphere, a highly dynamic medium in which these sys- tems must operate, can significantly impact their effectiveness, thus necessitating an under- standing of this environment and a capability to predict it. DE systems, particularly high-energy lasers (HEL) employed at low altitudes, will exhibit significant variations in performance based on location, time of day, and time of year. Through the Air Force Weather Agency, the Air Force Weather (AFW) community pro- vides centralized terrestrial and space weather support to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force, Army, unified commands, national intelligence community, and other agencies as directed.1 This article outlines some of the unique atmospheric influences on DE weapons and the ways that specialized weather support can enhance the mission capability and efficacy of those weapons.

Anticipating the changing nature of warfare is part of the responsibility that AFW shares with other parts of the Department of Defense (DOD) after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. AFW cannot afford to wait for DE weapons events to happen and then react. According to the Quadrennial Defense Review Report of 2006, "new capabilities [are] needed by Combatant Commanders to confront asymmetric threats."2 Not all of the "new capabilities" are the weapons themselves; much of the advancing technology in the DE weapons realm involves the transition of highfidelity modeling and simulation competencies into mission-planning tools. These decision aids, coupled with timely and accurate environmental assessments, would enable the DE weaponeer to optimize an employment strategy. AFWs ability to guide the employment of DE weapons in all environments - via accurate determination of how to exploit information on target-area weather conditions to best advantage - is essential to secure the battlespace of tomorrow. Identifying the optimum time of day, attack heading, and attack altitude for low-altitude employment of HELs serves as an example of such information exploitation.

Major Types of Directed Energy Weapons

This article addresses two types of DE systems: the HEL and the high-power microwave (HPM). Whereas HELs direct a beam of focused energy to a precise point on the target to damage or destroy it, HPMs do not physically destroy a target. Rather, they invade the electronics and disrupt the components, circuitry, and switches inside the device. Additionally, they can cause behavior-modifying sensations in living organisms. HPMs, which do not require the precise aiming necessary for HELs, can function as area weapons, depending on the frequency, field of view, range to the target, and selection of either a large or small footprint.3

These weapons complement each other, each having advantages and disadvantages. HPM weapons cannot focus on as small an area as can HEL weapons but have proven effective through clouds and fog since they experience about two orders of magnitude less extinction (i.e., loss of energy due to absorption and scattering) in those conditions than do HELs. HPMs generate high electric fields over the entire target, in sharp contrast to the intense energy delivered by a laser to a typically small and precisely selected target area.4 Furthermore, they can affect enemy electrical systems regardless of whether those systems are on or off. …

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