“Star Wars” is not fiction »Albuquerque Journal

An artistic interpretation of a future struggle that uses both artificial intelligence and directed energy. The Directed Energy Directorate of the Air Force Research Lab is based at Kirtland Air Force Base. (Tyrell Etsitty / Air Force Research Lab)

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Force fields that protect us from drones and missiles.

Guns that shoot lasers instead of firing bullets.

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Rock ’em Sock’ em robots that attack each other on the battlefield.

A new report from the Air Force Research Laboratory titled Directed Energy Futures 2060 describes the types of “directed energy” weapons that could exist for the next 40 years. And the expected technology – much of which can be researched and developed in Albuquerque – is like something out of a science fiction movie.

Officials from multiple units of the Department of Defense, North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners and other experts came together to write the report, which says the world is at a “tipping point”.

Soon, the report says, the use of directional energy will be critical to military success. The report’s authors argue that more investment in directional energy research and development and the training of future directed energy workers is required in order for America to remain competitive in this area with rival nations such as China and Russia.

“We’re seeing a lot more targeted energy capabilities in the military. People around the world use them for weapons, ”said Jeremy Murray-Krezan, deputy chief scientist of the AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate and one of the report’s authors. The directorate is based at Kirtland Air Force Base.

A conceptual drawing of future warfare using targeted energy. A recent report on targeted injuries said the world is at a “tipping point” and that targeted energy weapons will soon be critical to military success. (Courtesy Raytheon Technologies)

Directed energy weapons convert various frequencies of electromagnetic waves and light into a high-powered pulse to shoot a target. And such weapons already exist.

AFRL, for example, is currently in the late-stage testing of the Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR), which can fire microwaves to destroy drones. The idea is that the weapon can protect military bases.

Murray-Krezan said the Air Force has also developed mounted guns that fire laser beams instead of bullets.

Similar weapons are made in other countries. Murray-Krezan noted that all of the top 10 militaries in the world have some sort of targeted energy program.

“It may not be the extent of the Cold War,” he said, “but I think we could already see something like an arms race.”

Research Center

If the arms race for targeted energy really gets underway, much of the action could take place in Albuquerque.

Both inside and outside the KAFB, Albuquerque has become something of a mecca for this type of science over the past 40 years, said Edl Shamiloglu, a distinguished professor in the University of New Mexico’s School of Engineering who specializes in directional energy Has.

UNM is preparing to set up a Directed Energy Center that will make the university one of the few in the country with a center for this type of research and the only one with expertise in both lasers and microwaves, he said.

“Albuquerque, New Mexico is the epicenter of directed energy research in the United States,” Shamiloglu said. “In addition to the activities carried out internally at AFRL, AFRL supports research in Sandia National Labs and Los Alamos (National Laboratory). And there are dozens of companies supporting directional energy … in the city. Therefore, I think that targeted energy research and development will be an important component of economic development in urban and rural areas for decades to come. “

Future technologies

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan proposed a strategic defense initiative known as Star Wars. It was the height of the Cold War, and the conservative icon envisioned a series of satellites that could fire X-rays to prevent nuclear weapons from reaching the country’s borders.

Despite spending billions, the project remained science fiction, according to Politico, until it was severely curtailed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The most recent directional energy report takes up the idea again.

Murray-Krezan said the technology used in the THOR project could be applied to a fleet of satellites that could theoretically turn the “Star Wars” defense shield into a reality.

“Today we could say that we could build a force field to protect against (drones),” he said in an interview. “The fact that we see these things in the field is no longer just laboratory experiments. You are on your way to join the military. … In the next 10 years we could see an enormous spread of it. At some point … you might, in some way, want to get to a whole missile shield. “

Targeted energy could also be used to create a weapon that fires laser beams. The technology already exists. Shamiloglu said the naval ship USS Ponce has had an assembled laser weapon for several years.

The advantage of a laser over a missile or other kinetic weapon like a traditional weapon is that it doesn’t have to be reloaded as often, Murray-Krezan said.

“Imagine you are a group defending a military base and you have a battery of Patriot missiles,” he said. “Instead of upgrading your battery of 12 Patriot missiles with more missiles, you could just keep firing a directed energy weapon while you have electricity.”

There is also the possibility that the military will combine artificial intelligence and targeted energy weapons in the coming decades to create fast-paced battlefields, which Murray-Krezan compares to rock ’em sock’ em robots, the classic toy where gamers are simple robots manipulate in order to fight each other.

He envisioned some sort of mobile robot – maybe a drone – armed with a directed energy weapon that could initially fire microwaves that could destroy electronics. But it also has a laser that could give off a more deadly pulse if the situation escalates.

“So you could imagine that there is artificial intelligence behind the robots – and that’s not such a far-fetched concept. We use electronic warfare in the military today, ”said Murray-Krezan. “It definitely goes one step further.”

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