The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is now planning a national programme on directed energy weapons (DEWs) like high-energy lasers and high-powered microwaves, which are increasingly being considered crucial around the world for the contactless conflicts of the future.
The national programme will have short, medium and long-term goals, with the eventual aim being to develop different DEW variants of up to 100 kilowatt power, in collaboration with the domestic industry, sources said.
The DRDO has been working on several DEW projects for long, ranging from ‘chemical oxygen iodine’ and ‘high-power fibre’ lasers to a secretive ‘Kali’ particle-beam weapon for ‘soft-kills’ against incoming missiles and aircraft.
But they are nowhere near becoming operational. The need for a focussed approach on DEWs has now gained urgency amid the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
DRDO has so far developed two anti-drone DEW systems, which will now be productionised in large numbers with the help of the industry. While one is a trailer-mounted DEW, with a 10 kilowatt laser to engage aerial targets at 2-km range, the other is a compact tripod-mounted one with a 2 kilowatt laser for a 1-km range.
Successfully demonstrated to the armed forces, intelligence agencies and police forces in field operations, the two systems can bring down micro drones by either jamming their command and control links or damaging their electronics through the laser-based DEW, officials said.
These indigenous systems, however, are extremely modest compared to the much more powerful DEWs developed by countries like the US, Russia, China, Germany and Israel to destroy multiple drones, vehicles and boats.
The US, for instance, tested a 33 kilowatt laser weapon from a warship to shoot down drones several years ago. More recently, in May, the US Navy tested a new ‘high-energy solid-state laser’ to disable a drone aircraft in mid-air. The US, in fact, may be just four to five years away from deploying 300 to 500 kilowatt DEWs capable of shooting down cruise missiles.
The Indian defence establishment’s technological roadmap for the next decade says the Army and IAF need at least 20 ‘tactical high-energy laser systems’ that can destroy ‘small aerial targets’, electronic warfare and radars systems at a range of 6-8 km in Phase-I.
In Phase-II, the laser systems should have a range of over 20 km to take on ‘soft-skinned’ vehicles and troops from ground and aerial platforms. Similarly, at least 20 high-power electromagnetic weapon systems are required for the forces, with 6-8 km range in Phase-I and over 15-km in Phase-II.
As reported by TOI last month, the ongoing Army study on ‘niche and disruptive warfare technologies’ has identified DEWs as one of the focus areas, with General M M Naravane stressing the need to invest heavily in such futuristic tools. But it will take a lot for such concentrated energy weapons to become an operational reality.