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Conventional weapons seem to have reached the end of the road. Does that mean the work started by the likes of Alfred Noble[i] and Tipu Sultan[ii]has finally reached its pinnacle as far as further development in technology and concept is concerned? The answer is in the affirmative!


Today if we critically analyse the amount of energy released by a conventional weapon[iii] compared to the desired effect, we see that a lot of released energy is wasted. This is primarily because once a conventional weapon is released there is no control over the intensity of the effect it will create. We casually consider it as attrition or collateral damage. Though these weapons have gained a high degree of accuracy as far as targeting is concerned, they lose out on the effective use of expended energy which is released from the so called fixed weight warhead that they so precisely carry to the target. If we study the CENTCOMS report on Iraqi Freedom[iv], which is very elaborately documented by Benjamin Lambeth in his book The Unseen War, we find that the entire operation was based on Effect Based Operation (EBO), a new phrase coined in the dictionary of warfare. Here every launch of a weapon was made accountable for the effect it would have on the enemy. Attention was also focused to see if every launch could be further extended to take on any additional target in its ingress or egress mode. All this was enabled with a highly developed space based reconnaissance system. The net result was that when the allied forces were moving in to take over Saddam’s Palace, they found the elite Iraqi Palace guards standing next to a fully working tank; perfectly fit soldiers without their uniforms or weapons and with a lost facial expression! They had actually lost the will to fight! An indication to the dramatic effect the so called EBOs had had. This was a remarkable achievement for any well trained force, fighting another equally well trained opponent.

What we see here is the use of weapon which is well matched with the desired effect, desired result on the desired target at the desired time. As day by day the cost of weapon are becoming exorbitant it will be a daunting task for any armed force to weigh the net effect which the launch of say a multi crore missile will have on the net outcome of the battle. The modern day weapon needs to be cost effective.

This pushes us to the edge of the wall, from where if we need to see the future of weapons in a time frame of around 2035. We have no option but to consider that the future weapon should have the following properties -

  1. (a) Extremely precise;
  2. (b) Low operating cost-to eliminate the hesitation in launch;
  3. (c) Create the desired effect[v]-depending upon the requirement during an ongoing operation;
  4. (d) Can sustain prolong use without recharging very often[vi];
  5. (e) Should have sufficient reach and speed to counter say at least Hypersonic weapons(if possible, beyond hypersonic[vii]);
  6. (f) Should be portable enough to be deployed either in the TBA[viii] or an airborne or seaborne platform;
  7. (g) If the weapon itself can defy the effects of gravity, then it will not need complicated calculations for its accurate deployment.

Is this too tall an order for a weapon?  The answer is NO.

Today, Directed Energy Weapons, which covers Laser weapons and Microwave weapons, have displayed these properties and intrigued the interest of many nations and their scientists to develop these weapons.

The concept behind DEW can be explained as – every target is made of some material. As per elementary physics, every material has a density, melting point, vaporisation point, Heat capacity, Heat of fusion and Heat of vaporisation. If we analyse these thermal properties as per the chart given below, we can calculate the amount of heat required for either melting or vaporizing a particular target made out of any of these materials.






Melting Point­


Vaporization (­­0C)

Heat capacity (J/gm­­0C)

Heat Of Fusion (J/gm)

Heat of Vaporization







































Let us clarify this point by taking an example. Assume that we have to destroy a bridge in enemy territory, made of aluminium struts and pillars. To melt the aluminium, the energy required is given by a  simple relationship i.e. E=m C(Tm-Ti), where  E is the energy required, m is the mass of the object ,C is the Heat capacity and Tm And Ti are the melting temperature and initial temperature (taken to be close to the ambient temperature) respectively. To melt a strut of the bridge weighing say a ton (1000kg), a burst of High Energy Laser with Fluence[ix] value of 104 from an invisible source will be sufficient.


The Effective cost of this amount of energy comes to just about 100 USD[x]. This is cheap, compared to the use of a LGB which would have cost somewhere between 15000 to 20000 USD.The two commonly used weapon which qualify as DEW are the High Energy laser (HEL) and the High Power Microwave (HPM).


India being one of the late entrants (1994) in this field, the core competence and facilities needed to demonstrate the basic concept of DEW to its Armed Forces and strategic planners for further system development could be established as per the specific requirements of India’s strategic plans in this area. Given the imminent deployment of DEW systems by advanced nations in the near future, particularly in the context of missile defence and space security, India will need to quickly consolidate all efforts to narrow the technology gap in this critical area to be at par with leading nations in this very promising futuristic technology. In India, presently the following agencies are engaged in developing the various technologies related to DEW.


(a) LASTEC-Laser Science and Technology Centre

(b) MTRDC-Microwave Tube Research &Development Centre

(c) BARC-Bhabha Atomic Research Centre

(d) TBRL-Terminal Ballistic Research Laboratory

(e) RCI-Research Centre Imarat

(f) CELP IIT –Centre for Laser and Photonics

(g) RRCAT –Raja Rammana Centre for Advanced Technology


As all nations around the globe struggle to gain better positions as compared to other nations—with or without open conflict—the competing forces are translated into ‘threats’ to the well-being or sovereignty of a nation. A richer or and a poorer nation can each have various reasons to see the other as a threat. As is common in any human endeavour, however, the most advanced or powerful players invariably define the norms and set the standards. Others respect and aspire to associate or acquire such power and often form alliances to partially achieve their aims. At present the US is in this position. A nation like ours which cannot keep pace with the most powerful, has to pursue its struggle alone. Under these dynamics, whether at national or international level, it is the quality of strategy and technology that will provide the vital edge to our nation. Technology will remain the prime instrument for enhancing security and development. Maintaining superiority could then be done by denial of this technology to others.


Time is ripe now for the bright minds undergoing undergraduate/postgraduate courses in areas related to technology, to think of avant garde solutions to today’s problems so that they may fruitfully contribute to India’s rising aspirations.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

[i] Blast effect by a single rod of dynamite.

[ii] Gave the world the concept of artillery fire by putting explosives in rockets propelled by a mixture which is same as that used in of fire crackers today.

[iii] Those which use the conversion of chemicals to kinetic energy to create blast heat and shrapnel which destroys the target.

[iv] The War between the allied forces and the Iraqi forces held in 2003,generally referred to as the second Iraqi war –the first being the 1991.

[v] Deny, disable or destroy the target.

[vi] Suppose if deployed in space need not be recharged again and again- commonly referred to as having deep magazine.

[vii]A Conventional weapon will take 10 -15 hrs to reach any satellite under threat, a weapon which can travel a t the speed of light will be instantaneously there.

[viii] TBA-Tactical battle area where the forces are face to face with the each other.

[ix] Joules/cm2.

[x] Calculations are based on deployment cost not considering the initial development cost which will be one time.