The Navy Is Betting Big On High-Power Microwave Weapons

The U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, or NSWCDD, has created a new division specifically for researching and developing high-power microwave (HPM) directed-energy weapons. Unlike lasers, which the Navy also is investing in heavily, this emerging class of weapon systems uses bursts of microwave energy to disrupt or destroy the electronics inside various enemy systems, including drones, small boats, and missiles. As asymmetric threats continue to pose threats to high-value military assets, these weapons could soon provide the Navy with an extra layer of defense if its research and development efforts pan out.

Prior to this reorganization, one NSWCDD research division was responsible for both laser weapons and HPM. In a Naval Sea Systems Command press release announcing the creation of the new division, Weapon Systems Division Head Kevin Cogley says, however, that lasers and HPM weapons can actually complement laser weapons, rather than compete with them. 

“HPM and lasers work in parallel in a lot of areas,” Cogley said. “One thing that is unique in the HPM arena is that we can have graduated effects. In HPM, we can have a range of effects on target – from basically jamming a device to physically destroying electrical systems.” While this class of weapons isn’t new per se, continuing technological advances in miniaturization and efficiency are making microwaves attractive for a wide variety of new applications

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