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DRDO’s Next: Star Wars-like Weapons

Move aside Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, DRDO is trying to develop its
own set of Star Wars-like weapons. From laser dazzlers to control
rioting crowds to high-powered lasers to destroy incoming missiles, DRDO
is working on a slew of directed energy weapons (DEWs).

“Lasers are weapons of the future. We can, for instance, use laser beams
to shoot down an enemy missile in its boost or terminal phase,” said
DRDO’s Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC) director Anil
Kumar Maini, talking to TOI on Monday.

Incidentally, DRDO chief V K Saraswat himself has identified DEWs, along
with space security, cyber-security and hypersonic vehicles, as focus
areas in the years ahead. “LASTEC has the mandate to develop DEWs for
armed forces,” said DRDO’s chief controller (electronics & computer
sciences) R Sreehari Rao.

While conventional weapons use kinetic or chemical energy of missiles or
other projectiles to destroy targets, DEWs decimate them by bombarding
with subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves at the speed of sound.
Apart from the speed-of-light delivery, laser DEWs cause minimal
collateral damage.

DRDO, of course, often promises much more than it can deliver.
But even the defence ministry’s recent “technology perspective and
capability roadmap” identifies DEWs and ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons
as thrust areas over the next 15 years, as was first reported by TOI.

The aim is to develop laser-based weapons, deployed on airborne as well
as seaborne platforms, which can intercept missiles soon after they are
launched towards India in the boost phase itself. These will be part of
the fledgling ballistic missile defence system being currently developed
by DRDO.

The US, incidentally, is already conducting tests of high-powered laser
weapons on a modified 747 jumbo jet, the ALTB (airborne laser testbed),
which direct lethal amounts of directed energy to destroy ballistic
missiles during their boost phase.

It will, of course, take India several years to even conduct such tests.
For now, LASTEC is developing “a 25-kilowatt” laser system to hit a
missile during its terminal phase at a distance of 5-7 km. “All you need
is to heat the missile skin to 200-300 degree and the warhead inside
will detonate,” said Maini.