The accelerated pace of technology evolution continues to change the ever-expanding landscape for unmanned systems. In our current environment, we are seeing large connected swarms of more than 1000 drones working in tandem on the global stage and threats like the Aramco attack on the Saudi Oil Field have demonstrated a sophisticated combination of unmanned systems that are increasing the level of risk to our way of life. Private sector development of the drone delivery service shows just a tip of the iceberg concerning the challenges on the horizon for base defense given the capabilities touted by Amazon Prime Air, with payloads (up to 5lbs), ranges (up to 10 miles), and speeds (100mph). They also have shown an increasing question in terms of attribution, potentially allowing adversaries to strike from a distance and maintain anonymity on the global stage. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, complex sensors, and cheaper hardware are forcing some of this change, and the Department of Defense (DoD) is looking at using the same technology to match or gain a cutting edge against it. Emerging technology, such as the use of directed energy (DE), offers unique offensive and defensive capabilities that need to be considered as we work to meet the strategy to compete, deter, and win as laid out by the National Defense Strategy (NDS).
Directed energy, which includes high energy lasers and high power microwaves, are being explored by all services as a potential solution or augmentation to existing base defenses. Directed energy touts the ability to provide extended or unlimited magazines based on power source availability, exceed the engagement range of current kinetic or electronic warfare solutions, and offer speed-of-light hard kill capabilities to aid against large volumes of threats. High-energy lasers deliver a narrow cone of energy to provide a thermal effect on a target, and high power microwave systems use very high power bursts of energy that can interact with and disrupt electrical components. When you look at the potential for swarm threats, especially with the threat of overwhelming existing defenses on sheer numbers, there are very few technological capabilities that can match what Directed Energy can do for defense.