A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

Laser weapons in general

This page contains links to articles about laser weapons used against missiles, aircraft and other combat materiel. A separate LaserPointerSafety.com page discusses laser weapons used to dazzle or blind people.

In addition, these three links to News pages here at LaserPointerSafety.com list news items relating to laser weapons:

Overview of laser weapons and power

A good overview of laser weapons is an August 13 2016 article by Brian Wang at NextBigFuture.com, entitled “By 2021, combat lasers with hundreds of kilowatt power will demo shooting down ballistic missiles in the boost phase.” He covers many different laser weapon programs of the U.S. military.

He also has an excellent description of the laser power necessary to carry out various destructive missions. As you read this, recall that laser pointers in the U.S. must be below 0.005 watts (5 milliwatts), Class 4 lasers are those 0.5 watts and above, and the most powerful handheld lasers generally available to consumers as of mid-2016 are in the 2-3 watt range.

• Lasers with a power level of about 10 kW (10,000 watts) might be able to counter some UAVs at short range, particularly “soft” UAVs (i.e., those with design features that make them particularly susceptible to laser damage).
• Lasers with power levels in the tens of kilowatts could have more capability for countering UAVs, and could counter at least some small boats as well.
• Lasers with a power level of about 100 kW (100,000 watts) would have a greater ability for countering UAVs and small boats, as well as some capability for countering rockets, artillery, and mortars.
• Lasers with power levels in the hundreds of kilowatts could have greater ability for countering targets mentioned above, and could also counter manned aircraft and some missiles.
• Lasers with power levels in the megawatts (1 MW = 1,000,000 watts) could have greater ability for countering targets mentioned above—including supersonic ASCMs and ballistic missiles—at ranges of up to about 10 nautical miles.

A more recent article is from March 30 2017 by Patrick Tucker at Defense One, entitled “Why You Can’t Shoot Terrorists With Lasers, Yet”. The subhead is “Military leaders are eager to have the precision of a directed-energy weapon — yet plenty of legal and practical obstacles remain.”

Tucker notes the disjoint between the U.S. agreeing to laser weapons that don’t harm eyes, but also apparently legally being able to field laser weapons that kill. “All this leaves enough legal room to use lasers against people — if military leaders can be more certain about the effects that the weapons would have. That means, firstly, a lot more testing. ‘The deployment issue is less about the law and more about ‘Do I really believe it can do what you say?’,’ said [Mary] Miller [acting assistant defense secretary for Research and Engineering].”

Another review article is “The Coming Laser Wars?” by Sebastien Roblin, published July 3 2017 on The National Interest blog. This gives a good background of laser capabilities and limitations, and of specific laser systems that have been developed.

A June 6 2018 article at Eurasia Review is titled “China’s Laser Weapons: Future Potential, Future Tensions? – Analysis.” As the title indicates, it is an overview of China’s expanding use of laser weapons.

In January 2019, long-time laser reporter Jeff Hecht published "Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon." This 300-page book focuses on U.S. "Star Wars" efforts to make flying and orbiting laser weapons. A long summary of this part of the book is in a Daily Mail article published January 28 2019.

A July 19 2019 article in the Military Times entitled "Pentagon scientists are making talking plasma laser balls for use as non-lethal weapons" describes how lasers can be used for "heating up a target’s skin to extremely uncomfortable levels without burning them, blasting confusing noises or giving voice commands such as, 'Stop or we’ll be forced to fire upon you.'" As of the article date, the talking plasma ball distance involved is currently within "the short range of a laboratory setting", with a goal of 100 meters to multiple kilometers.

An August 28 2020 article at StrategyPage, Weapons: Laws of Laser, discusses U.S. military laser systems, especially those designed to distract or dazzle.