Thursday, July 25, 2024

India’s DURGA II In A Growing Directed Energy Weapons Market

By Aritra Banerjee

Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) are specially designed weapon systems to neutralise or damage targets by deploying concentrated energy using particle beams, microwaves, and lasers. These weapons possess a significant edge over conventional weapons. DEWs are developed to transmit lethal force at the speed of light, i.e. approximately 3,00,000 kilometres per second and have laser-like precision. These weapons are not bogged down with range limitations like atmospheric drag. The constraining effects of gravity do not hamper the DEWs beam. The impact of this weapon varies based on the intensity and the type of energy delivered to the target. 

Global Developments In DEWs 

The United States is at the tip of the spear regarding DEW research and development (R&D). These systems are being designed to counter a myriad of munitions. Some reports indicate that Iran and Turkey already possess DEWs in their arsenal. Ankara even claimed to have shot down an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with its laser weapon ALKA. Adding on to this new-age arms race in South Asia are geopolitical rivals India, Pakistan and China. Russia, Germany and France are also developing military-grade DEWs. Given the range of all significant arms-producing nations in the 21st century new-age weapons race, the market size is exponential and is slated to grow. Open-Source data indicated that in 2020 the DEW market was worth $4.1 Billion. 

DEW Market Forecasted To Grow 

According to a recent market forecast offered by Research & Markets titled ‘Directed Energy Weapons Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2022-2027,’ the global DEWs market “reached a value of US$ 5.2 billion in 2021.” The report indicates that “the market to reach US$ 15.5 Billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 19.63% during 2022-2027.” The market report mentions key players in the defence and aerospace sector like: Applied Companies, BAE Systems, L3 Harris Technologies Inc, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Moog Inc, Northrop Grumman Corporation, QinetiQ, Group PLC, Raytheon Technologies Corporation, Rheinmetall Aktiengesellschaft, Textron Inc, and the Boeing Company. It is in this backdrop that IA&D looks into DEW development in India. 

DURGA II: Laser Weapon Or Research Project?

Ongoing research into the Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array (DURGA II) has reportedly taken on since 2017. Some international media reports indicate that the Indian Army is closer to receiving the indigenous laser weapon and may propel India to the elite league of nations with DEW capabilities. While details about DURGA II remain tightly under wraps, open-source intelligence (OSINT) indicates that it would be a 100 Kilowatt (kW) lightweight DEW. While no official time frame has been definitively outlined, anonymous sources within the Indian Defence Ministry have claimed that the Indian Army will soon receive the DURGA II. These reports have further indicated that scientists believe that the indigenous DEW will be integrated with sea, air and land platforms.   

New Delhi’s Laser Science and Technology Centre (LASTEC), which is the premier laboratory dedicated to the development of laser weapons in India, stated: The centre has to the point made a 25 Kilowatt laser that can target a ballistic missile during its terminal phase at a maximum distance of five kilometres.  

The DURGA project has been in the works for a while. Multiple reports talk about the project from as far back as the early 2000s; minimal progress was reported as far as 2008. However, things took a turn in 2017. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) tested a 1kW truck-mounted laser weapon in Chitradurga. The test was carried out in the presence of former Defence Minister Arun Jaitley; this was viewed as part of project DURGA. The confirmed range at the time was 250 metres at least. It is believed that significant capability development took place since then, with the DEW reportedly possessing a 25 kW laser gun. 

Philippines based south Asian defence industry analyst Miguel Miranda told IA&D that the Durga II is certainly very promising, but its success depends on the defence ministry, the armed forces, and most of all the national leadership. Aside from the DRDO, many Indian companies are sitting on top of a gold mine when it comes to military products and their applications but a clear strategy for adopting and adapting these for real-world use matters a lot too.

The Filipino analyst pointed out the successful use of a laser weapon in Misrata, Libya, three years ago. The battlefield laser, as he calls it, was supplied by Turkey to the “Tripoli faction” it supported and was employed as an anti-UAS weapon in August 2019. It successfully brought down a Chinese-made Wing Loong II combat drone supplied by the UAE. The United States military has many laser weapons in service and in development. China, like Israel, allows its manufacturers in the defence sector to export laser weapons. India is only catching up to the trend at this stage.

He further explained that DEWs are maturing very fast, and their more immediate application is adding a new layer between traditional “kinetic” (as in artillery, rockets, missiles) and electronic countermeasures versus aerial targets such as drones. India’s armed forces have a lot of experience versus drones flown by Pakistan’s military and Pakistan-based militants. India’s military faces a very difficult “operational environment” in the years ahead, where low-cost drones and missiles will be proliferating everywhere, more so in the late 2020s, and it must exploit whatever technologies can put it ahead of its adversaries.” 

Military author and defence & aerospace analyst Joseph P Chacko is not convinced about the DURGA II’s capabilities. He told IA&D, “​​Durga II has not shown any results since the 2017 tests. It may not be the final product. Unless we have a series of tests demonstrating it in various scenarios, it cannot be said it is a weapon. It can be best called a research project.” 

The development and use of DEWs come with their own host of challenges, which merit a mention. 

What Are The Downsides Of DEWs?

Power consumption is a serious challenge when it comes to such laser weapon systems. They need a massive power supply to work and create an intense energy ray. It is difficult to provide such huge amounts of power, but it is even more challenging to make a power source available on the battlefield at all times necessary. Massive energy consumption also generates immense amounts of heat, which acts as a significant obstacle to the efficient deployment of DEWs. Excessive generation of heat also leads to more power consumption. 

The problem then becomes to design an appropriate cooling mechanism for the weapon. This is a complex task, and research in the area is ongoing. Lasers also present other tactical challenges. For instance, when a laser beam travels towards a target, it comes across atmospheric effects such as water vapour, dust, pollutants etc. These effects can distort the beam by absorbing/refracting energy and losing focus. Ensuring that the beam generated from the DEW is focused on the target is essential. Doing this would require the involvement of the department of optronics or optoelectronics to create lenses capable of focusing the beam.

Yet another issue is that the DEW could be made ineffective reasonably easily when it comes to missiles. An enemy could provide its missiles, aircraft etc. with substantial protection from DEWs by simply adding a thicker, more rigid outer shield. This is because a laser can only obstruct a missile (or other adversary equipment) if it generates enough energy to cut through its electronics package. 

Moreover, since a laser weapon can only focus on one target at once, many missiles from the adversary could overpower the DEWs defence. The weapon concept has potential, but adequate research on how to make it a viable practical reality seems to have a long road ahead.


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