"Lasers and high-power microwave devices long have been eyed as competing directed-energy attack options. However, researchers are now combining the two to produce smaller, cheaper, more powerful, nonkinetic weapons," according to Aviation Week."An advanced concept, pioneered by BAE Systems' researchers, uses light to multiply the speed and power at which HPM [high-power microwave] pulses... Researchers predict leaps of 10-100 times in power output within two years," making it possible to generate the 100-gigawatt pulse needed "to disable a cruise missile at a useful range."
The development of HPM weapons has been hobbled for the last 30 years by seemingly intractable cost, size, beam-control and power-generation requirements. Tests of modified air-launched cruise missiles carrying devices to produce explosively generated spikes of energy were considered big disappointments in the early 1990s because of an inability to direct pulses and predict effects. New active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars can jam emitters or possibly cause damage to electronic components with focused beams. But power levels and ranges are limited by aperture size.BAE Systems' photonically driven technology could open the way to much smaller and more powerful electronic jammers, nonkinetic beam weapons for cruise and anti-ship missile defenses, and stealth-detecting sensors."You could put a [sensor] system on a fighter-size aircraft that could generate enough power, with a 1-ft. resolution, to see stealthy objects at 100 mi." D'Amico says. "You can defeat stealth with enough power. If stealth takes the signature [of an aircraft or missile] down a factor of 10, you have to increase the [sensor's] power by a factor of 10." Most current fighter-size radars have less than a megawatt of peak power. Detecting stealth would require tens of gigawatts, which is now impossible in fighter-size packages..."We have shown everything we claimed with a laboratory testbed," says Oved Zucker, director of photonics programs for BAE Systems' advanced concepts facility here. "We are in the process of demonstrating total power substantially above 10 gigawatts, and we have plans to test [the system] further in an airborne mode..."There's no dearth of missions for HPM technology, including detecting and detonating improvised explosive devices, finding suicide bombers or hidden explosives, and attacking shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles..."At one end, it can fry anything [electronic] that's out there," Zucker says. "The levels of EW extend from the sledgehammer to just making the [computer's] brain a little bit befuddled so it can't think for a moment. At a lower level, you can kill the detector of the other guy's radar as part of the suppression of enemy air defenses. You don't need much power because you're going after the most sensitive part. You're blinding the system."The level below that is to momentarily stop electronics from functioning. A radar will try to defend itself by using a chain of circuits to "blink," and thereby shut out intruding signals. One method of exploitation is to do something during the blink. But if an intruding signal is fast enough, the radar can't react in time to keep out the invader...BAE researchers envision HPM pulse weapons that are powerful enough to disable a tank, a missile, perhaps a helicopter or aircraft, but at the same time are small and light enough to function as part of a microwave radar sensor designed into the skin of an aircraft.I'm sure this beam combo is harder than AvWeek is making it out to be. But still, it's an interesting concept.