Directed-energy weapons are weapons that emit energy in a desired direction without a physical projectile, transferring the energy directly to the target. Laser-based weapons are currently being developed by the United States military, primarily for point defense roles.
Energy Weapons in Science Fiction
In science fiction, directed-energy weapons generally occur in two types.
- Beam weapons generate continuous beams that usually propagate quickly, often at lightspeed or close to lightspeed. They usually do damage by heat transfer, causing their targets to melt or burn. A powerful, sustained beam can be tracked across a target, possibly slicing it apart.
- Pulse weapons generate blobs or bolts of energy that usually propagate relatively slowly, allowing observers to track their progress toward the target. Damage from pulse weapons usually resembles damage from explosive ordinance, tearing holes in the target. Unlike a guided missile with an explosive warhead, however, a pulse cannot change course to track its target. Consequently, they mimic the behavior of modern firearms or cannons in a space opera setting.
Examples include the following: