The term laser weapon implies the use of a laser as
part of a so-called directed energy weapon (DEW). In that case, the laser
energy is causing the target damage. Military research led to the development
of experimental lasers with continuous output powers up to 140 kW in 1966 and
two Megawatts in 1980. However, those systems were huge and not part of laser
Since the 1980s the development in the military
continued. Remarkably, civilian lasers, developed for industrial machining,
have now reached output powers, which can be useful for DEW applications, too.
Recently, several prototypes came into operation. On the one hand, there are industry-funded
projects that use civilian of-the-shelf industrial lasers. On the other hand,
there is government-funded research, which aims at high power laser systems.
Major defense companies in the United States and elsewhere are working on both
Anti-satellite (ASAT) laser engagements would be a
revolutionary laser application, as they would in principle enable an option of
attacks on satellites with only minor debris. At the moment, attacking
satellites implies the use of missiles with kinetic or explosive warheads. A
kinetic impact creates debris, which would be harmful to the attacker's space
assets, too. For that reason, space faring nations are discouraged from using
kinetic energy attacks.
This fact enacts a kind of "natural" arms
control. Lasers could change this situation, if they are used to heat up
satellites just to a point where their electronics are damaged or only to impair
their sensors. Hence, attacks on satellites would be more likely, if laser DEW
with anti-satellite capabilities are fielded in peacetime. In a time of crisis,
this would create additional political instabilities, as satellites are
important early warning and reconnaissance assets. A deployment of laser ASATs could eventually lead to an arms
race in space. In order to make this scenario less likely arms control
mechanism could be implemented.
This talk will focus on the technological background
of laser ASATs. After a short introduction into recent technological
developments, it will be examined whether current laser technology has the
ability to endanger satellites. To achieve this, a physics-based method has
been devised to assess laser DEW engagements. Damage mechanisms as well as
possible distinctions between industrial laser setups and laser weapons will be
examined in greater detail. Options for controlling laser ASATs and obstacles for the
implementations of such controls will be introduced.
Jan Stupl is a
Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC. His research concerns the current developments in
laser technology regarding a possible application of lasers as an
anti-satellite weapon (ASAT), as well as the proliferation of ballistic
missiles. The research on laser ASATs focuses on damage mechanisms, the
potential sources and countries of origin of laser ASATs and ways to curb their
international proliferation. Regarding missiles, Jan is interested in the
methods which are used to acquire ballistic missiles and possible ways to
control this process.
Before coming to
CISAC, Jan was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace Research
and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His PhD
dissertation was a physics-based analysis of future of High Energy Lasers and
their application for missile defense and focused on the Airborne Laser missile
defense system. This work was jointly supervised by the IFSH, the Institute of Laser
and System Technologies at Hamburg University of Technology and the physics
department of Hamburg
University, where he
earned his PhD in 2008.
Jan studied physics at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena,
Germany and at Warwick University
in Coventry, UK. He concluded his undergraduate
physics degree with a thesis in laser physics, receiving a German National
Diploma in Physics in 2004. His interest in security policy and international
politics was fuelled by an internship at the United Nations in New York in 2003.
Clay Moltz joined the National Security Affairs faculty of the Naval
Postgraduate School (NPS) in June 2007. Since November 2008, he has
held a joint appointment with the Space Systems Academic Group at NPS.
He currently teaches Space and National Security, Nuclear Strategy and
National Security, International Relations, and Northeast Asian
Security. Prior to his appointment at NPS, he served for 14 years in
various positions at the Monterey Institute’s Center for
Nonproliferation Studies, including: deputy director from 2003-2007,
director of the Newly Independent States Nonproliferation Program from
1998-2003, and founding editor of The Nonproliferation Review from 1993-98. He was also a faculty member in the Monterey Institute’s Graduate School of International Policy Studies.
Dr. Moltz received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Political Science from the
University of California, Berkeley. He also holds an M.A. in Russian
and East European Studies and a B.A. in International Relations (with
Distinction) from Stanford University. Dr. Moltz
worked previously as a staff member in the U.S. Senate and has served
as a consultant to the NASA Ames Research Center, the Department of
Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Department
of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment. He held prior academic positions
at Duke University and at the University of California, San Diego.