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The Use of Directed-Energy Weapons to Protect Critical Infrastructure

by Jack Spencer and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
August 2, 2004

America's critical infrastructure--e.g., power plants, transportation hubs, and telecommunications facilities--is becoming increasingly vulnerable to precision missile attacks. Guided missile technology and the missiles themselves have been available for years, but the emergence of global terror networks, sophisticated smuggling techniques, and the post-September 11 security environment have made the threat of precision missile attacks even more serious. While technology transfer legislation and international agree-ments may help to control the spread of some technologies, relying solely on these mechanisms is wholly insufficient, especially when proliferation has already occurred. Therefore, it is essential that the United States actively defend its most vital nodes of critical infrastructure. 1 To be effective against close-range missile attacks, such defenses must be cost efficient, safe, and swift.

Although the United States is not currently prepared to protect domestic targets against these threats, it does have the technology to do so with directed-energy weapons (DEWs), which include lasers, microwaves, electromagnetic pulses, and high intensity radio frequency waves. In 2000, for example, the Army used the Tactical High Energy Laser to shoot down a rocket carrying a live warhead--the first time a laser has destroyed a missile in flight.

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