Key point: These are the weapons that the Pentagon hopes to actually deploy one day.
Military researchers around the world have been studying electromagnetics as a weapon for decades. The most successful application has been in lasers, with the development of small high-power systems. Experts also have made advances in microwave weapons and non-nuclear electromagnetic pulses (EMPs).
The U.S. military first began to research the use of lasers in combat in the late 1950s, but it was not until 1973 that the first U.S. tactical laser, the Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) — a megawatt deuterium fluoride (DF) laser built by TRW — was tested against aerial targets. Five years later, the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., developed the first chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL). A wide range of lasers have been developed since then, including solid-state lasers and free-electron lasers.
Electromagnetic weapons offer the advantage of scalability — from microwaves that heat the skin to make the target extremely uncomfortable but without injury, to high-power electromagnetic weapons that can destroy an enemy ballistic missile in flight.
The potential for such weapons, which could disable an enemy’s ability to fight without killing or wounding anyone — especially nearby civilians — has made their creation and deployment a major goal. Involved in this kind of research are the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the service labs — Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Naval Research Lab (NRL), and Army Research Lab (ARL) — as well as the subject of considerable academic and corporate research, as the technology also has applications from medical to manufacturing.