Awareness campaign puts focus on Directed Energy Weapons 

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Dan Heaton

In May, Air Force operators launched a new education and awareness campaign to highlight the growing use and capabilities of directed energy weapons, or DEWs, as part of the Air Force’s integrated air and missile defense program.  

DEW uses concentrated electromagnetic energy to incapacitate, damage, disable, or destroy enemy equipment, facilities, and/or personnel. Examples of DEW systems may include high-energy lasers (HEL) or high-powered microwave (HPM) weapons, which can disrupt the electronic systems on an adversary aircraft. While DEW uses new technology, the systems build on enduring air power attributes, such as flexibility, speed and precision.  

DEW weapons harness the power of the electromagnetic spectrum to strike targets at the speed of light. 

“Recent events show the importance of defense against not only missiles, but also rockets, artillery, mortars, [and] unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Maj. Gen. Jason T. Hinds, director of operations at U.S. European Command at Patch Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany. “And while current systems, such as the Patriot Missile System, are the envy of the world, they are only one element of a multi-tiered defense that is being called upon to evolve rapidly. Meeting challenges that grow in number and variety requires EUCOM to aggressively pursue emerging technologies, including directed energy weapons, to bolster our IAMD capabilities.” 

During a four-day orientation course on DEWat the USAFE Air Warfare Center here May 6-9, three professors from the Air Force Institute of Technology provided an overview on DEW weapons and their capabilities. The course’s students were company grade officers and non-commissioned officers from a wide variety of backgrounds, with students coming from various Air Force units and the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command.  

“This technology is a gamechanger, decades ahead of anything out there,” said Capt. Randall Abella, Chief Intel Officer, Advanced Programs division of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe-U.S. Air Force Africa Operations Directorate. “What’s exciting, is we have included this technology as part of Air Force daily operations, so it’s important that our future leaders understand how these systems work.” 

In addition to the class in May, Abella said there are efforts underway to bring more educational opportunities on DEW technology to the Ramstein Air Base Technology Expos in the future.  

DEW is an effective tool to defend against attack from armed Unmanned Aerial Systems, which have been increasingly used in the Russia-Ukraine war and other regional conflicts. Bursts of high-power energy from a DEW system can disrupt the operations of unmanned aerial systems and cause them to drop harmlessly from the sky, before they reach their targeted destination. 

“As we are looking at these threats, we need an inexpensive, effective way to neutralize them. DEW systems give us those options and will become more critical to the Air Force as we move forward,” Abella said.  

When employed, DEW would be part of a multi-layered approach to defending an air base or other potential target, part of a system that could include defensive counter air intercept, Patriot missiles and more.  

“It is important that future leaders understand the full spectrum of the capabilities that we can bring to bear as part of an integrated air and missile defense system so that they can best utilize those assets in the future,” Abella said.  

To learn more about Air Force DEW systems, visit: 

AFIT Laser Weapon System Short course at AFIT / Center for Directed Energy (CDE) / Laser Weapons Systems Short Course (LWSSC)  

Air Force Research Laboratory’s video page at Directed Energy (