Are rail guns and lasers powerful enough to fight UFOs?

Can our current energy weapons help us fend off an alien invasion?
Interesting Engineering

Energy weapons are a type of futuristic weaponry that uses directed energy to cause damage to their targets. While many science fiction depictions of energy weapons may seem far-fetched, several types of energy weapons are currently being developed by various militaries and defense contractors worldwide.

Of those currently under development, they tend to fall into one of several main categories:

  • Laser weapons: Laser weapons use focused beams of light to damage or destroy their targets. They are currently in development by the US military, with the US Navy testing a laser weapon on a ship in 2014.
  • High-powered microwave weapons: High-powered microwave weapons use bursts of electromagnetic radiation to disrupt or damage electronic equipment. Several countries, including the US and China, are developing them.
  • Railguns: Railguns use electromagnetic fields to launch projectiles at hypersonic speeds. They are being developed by the US Navy and are seen as a potential alternative to traditional guns.
  • Particle beam weapons: Particle beam weapons use streams of charged or neutral particles to damage their targets. Various countries, including the US and Russia, have studied them.
  • Sonic weapons: Sonic weapons use sound waves to cause physical harm to their targets. Several militaries, including the US and China, are developing them.

But that’s the theory; what ones exist?

Believe it or not, the United States Navy has developed and tested a railgun, an electromagnetic launcher that uses electromagnetic fields to launch projectiles at hypersonic speeds. The railgun uses a pair of parallel metal rails to accelerate a projectile, which can reach speeds of over 7,000 miles per hour (11,265 kph), making it one of the fastest projectiles in existence.

Developed for possible deployment on Zumwalt-class destroyers, the project has since been mothballed due to the challenges of creating a reliable and efficient power source that can provide enough energy to accelerate the projectile to its high speeds.

The United States has also developed and tested several types of laser weapons. The US military has been exploring using lasers for various applications, including anti-missile defense, precision targeting, and disabling enemy equipment. In 2017, the US Army also announced the successful testing of a 60-kilowatt laser weapon capable of shooting down unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other small drones. However, despite these successful tests, the deployment of laser weapons in the field still needs to be improved and is subject to continuous development and refinement.

Other systems have been developed for general Dynamics’ Stryker armored vehicles, and Israel is making excellent progress with its “Iron Beam” anti-aerial defense system. However, like railguns, one of the main challenges of laser weapons is developing reliable, powerful, and efficient systems while minimizing the risk of collateral damage.

As for sonic weapons, some have been developed for use by various militaries and law enforcement agencies. While currently non-lethal, these weapons are effective for crowd control. The same is also true for microwave weapons. Examples include high-powered microwave (HPM) devices, which can disable or destroy electronic equipment, and microwave-based crowd control systems, which can produce a burning or painful sensation on the skin or other physiological effects.

As for particle beams, these are still (as far as we know) beyond our current technological capability.

Energy weapons are still mainly in the experimental and prototype phase, and it may be some time before they become widely deployed. Whatever the future may have in store, their development does come with important ethical and legal questions surrounding using such weapons, and their deployment is subject to international law and treaties.