In the setting I've been working on, I have high level technology that doesn't break science.

On many occasions due to strategic reasons, tank style units are fielded to planets. Some have shields, others may project shields.

My artillery was using a specific type of shell that creates electromagnetic radiation to disassemble molecular structures. I was using these for the artillery.

However, I wanted to explore the idea of instead using a pure energy method, or one that was at least partially energy based.

As such, the following can't be used:

  • Plasma - Since it's just far to inefficient to try and shoot it
  • Any kind of magic nonsense - Strictly forbidden in this case

What completely or partially energy based weapon could arc to act like artillery in this situation?

Some caveats:

  • Energy is not an issue
  • Technology is not an issue, assume the capability exists if science allows for it
  • It has to at least simulate what current real world artillery does
  • It must be usable in a planets atmosphere, but working elsewhere is fine as well

Or am I talking about something that's impossible?

Clarification: I'm taking about making a projectile from an energy source, IE a battery, generator or whatever without requiring anything physical. If that's not possible then a liquid or minor physical basis that the energy could be constrained around also works.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe someone can correct me, but pure energy = no matter = speed of light = barely affected by the gravitational field of an habitable planet $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Oct 1, 2015 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ Plasma can kinda / sorta work in atmospheres but you're better off using that energy in another weapon. The problem with energy (aka directed energy weapons), is that they are line of sight and not indirect fire. "Artillery" traditionally has filled the role of indirect support fire. Your best bet would be to use something similar to a traditional artillery shell and fill it with your energy nastiness. I can't think of any other way to provide indirect fire support with them. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 1, 2015 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @sjuan76 I see energy based artillery in various sci fi situations and was wondering if it would actually work. I'm beginning to think not. Of note on the plasma idea, I remember a game called Total Annihilation that had tanks which shot plasma spheres, but that just seems wasteful and implausible. $\endgroup$
    – Nonafel
    Oct 1, 2015 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Can he fire a single neutron at significantly high speeds at his target? Or is it too likely to collide with the molecules in the air, cause a premature atomic explosion before it even leaves the barrel? $\endgroup$
    – Flotolk
    Oct 1, 2015 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought was nuclear bomb pumped lasers detonating at the top of their firing arc. My second thought was: Why not just use the nukes?? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Oct 2, 2015 at 8:52

8 Answers 8


While I agree with the other answers none actually proposes a solution - so here is one. It doesn't quite give the "going up then coming down" effect but it does provide ranged area denial that does not require direct line of sight.

Constructive Interference being destructive

Essentially you place Gravitational Wave Generators around the battlefields at various locations. They can actually be anywhere so long as they are able to communicate their exact position and time basis to each other.

Each starts emitting waves of gravitational energy. These waves will cause nausea and slight tremors around the machines but nothing more.

However the machines time their position and the release of the pulses so that all the waves strike each other in a way that causes them to all amplify at the target location(s). We know that gravitation travels at the speed of light, that's been experimentally confirmed (they used Jupiter and a star IIRC).

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What's more the pulses could then be matched to the resonant frequency of the buildings or land in that area. By doing this you cause a massive localized earthquake that only has a large effect in the target locations and is basically impossible to stop. The gravitational effects will pass through anything and so the only protection would be to have your own similar machines trying to disrupt the resonances.

Of course we have no way to generate gravity waves at the moment but this is future tech :)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a sci-fi weapon I'd like to see in the future! $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 4, 2019 at 7:50

I don't think that what you want is possible.

For your projectile to arc it needs to be slow enough to be pulled down by gravity. As you are not interested in launching a usual artillery shell with some unusual flavor inside, ballistic trajectories are off.

Plasma without anything containing it will vaporize everything it'll touch as soon as it'll leave the magnetic constraints of your barrel. Most probably it'll first vaporize the barrel, then the gun, then its crew, in that order.

For an indirect fire you can reflect your impulse, like Heaviside's layer does with some radio wavelengths. However, for the reflected impulse to be harmful enough you need either a very specific atmosphere (and your artillery needs to fire on any planet) either some reflector (then why doesn't that reflector fire itself?).

You can insert a pinch of magic if shields in your war are powerful and ubiquitous enough to warrant anti-shield regiments.

Let's imagine a stream of magic particles (energy shields are also magic) that very weakly interact with matter, but interact well with shields, destroying them or turning into particles interacting violently with matter when passing shields.

Then your artillery will be shooting through the planet to hit the enemy. The usual indirect fire rules apply, but correcting fire will be much harder as, as with aiming a laser beam in space, you don't really know where exactly you're aimed at if nothing reflects your beam.

To make it more artillery-like make it impulse-fire, not a continuous beam and add humongous amounts of waste heat to be transferred to expendable sinks. You can adjust beam dissipation and exact effects of these particles interaction with shields to fit your story.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That last part about shooing a beam through a planet sounds like a meson accelerator. $\endgroup$
    – Nonafel
    Oct 1, 2015 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ Mesons participate in strong interaction, so, if my memory serves me right, it means they can't ignore solid matter. This is more like magical neutrino hounds, tuned to attack shields and shields only (as tanks and soldiers are not fundamentally different from stones and dirt). $\endgroup$
    – Noname
    Oct 1, 2015 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ You have the right idea Noname. However, without a mass element in the equation, the only form of energy to deliver to the target would be kinetic. This means that the projectile must be moving exceedingly fast (and thus arcing minimally). That or it would deliver almost no energy to the target.... $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Oct 5, 2015 at 2:34

Traditional artillery exploits gravity to fire shells in an arc. Energy weapons will not curve without an enormous gravitational field. That would crush everyone fighting on the surface of what could, at that point, hardly be called a planet. We need something else.

What is the role of artillery?

  • Providing immediate fire support to a large area of the battlefield.
  • ...without regard to intervening obstacles.
    • Hills.
    • Curvature of the planet.
  • ...while being safe themselves.
    • Counter-battery fire is an exception.

As a soldier on the front-line you want to be able to pick up the phone and say "please make everything in grid section X,Y go away in the next three minutes".

Airborne artillery?

An energy weapon hovering a few km above the battlefield would have a very large field of view and could shoot over most intervening obstacles.

The down side is it will also be visible to everything it's firing at, so that doesn't work.

Orbital bombardment

An energy weapon in orbit has an unobstructed view of the surface below. It can play the role of artillery the way ground-based artillery cannot, the view is amazing. Various orbits have various advantages and disadvantages.

A geostationary orbit (GEO) has the advantage of rendering the artillery stationary with respect to an area on the planet. If the battlefield is "small" (ie. a continent) this would provide total coverage of the battle. The down side is it is very far away from the surface (35,000km for the Earth) and thus a focused energy weapon will dissipate on the way.

If it's in a low orbit, it will pass over a large percentage of the planet every hour or less, depending on the orbit. The advantage is it is much closer to the surface (between 160km and 2000km for the Earth) and thus can better deliver focused fire. It can also cover the entire planet, though there may be a delay as it's repositioned. Ideally, a constellation of a few dozen low orbiting artillery satellites would provide total coverage.

This has the same disadvantage as flying artillery, everything on the surface can see it. Presumably they're not equipped to attack things 200 km in the sky, but who knows?

This also has the disadvantage of requiring orbital dominance. Can't set up your satellites if the enemy fleet is just going to shoot them down.

Orbital/airborne reflectors

A hybrid approach. The expensive part, the energy weapon, stays on the ground. Reflectors are placed in the air or in orbit. The energy weapon fires at the reflector which bounces the energy at the target.

The reflectors are still vulnerable, but they can be small, cheap and replaceable.

This approach is similar to the modern practice of launching a stand off weapon from over the horizon in the general direction of the target and having it be guided in by a laser designator on the ground in line of sight of the target. The firing vehicle remains safe while only the designator is vulnerable.

  • $\begingroup$ Reflectors can't be cheap and replaceable. If they are, they'll promptly be installed on vehicles, not unlike tiles of reactive armor on tanks. Your impulse constantly dissipates and what reaches the target is weaker than the impulse successfully redirected by the reflector in space. So the target's reflectors will have no trouble deflecting it, rendering the whole idea moot. $\endgroup$
    – Noname
    Oct 2, 2015 at 8:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Noname This assumes the reflector is small, light and cheap enough to be mounted on an agile fighting vehicle. As an analogy, we could make a tank today with armor and protection that could withstand anything on the battlefield, but we don't because it would be too heavy and expensive and slow to be practical. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Oct 2, 2015 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Noname Yes. The idea is simple to apply reflective armor to your MBTs. However for the reflective armor to be effective, you would need to keep the armor high reflective. Even dirt would quickly create a chink in the armor that would expand and destroy the armor. It would therefore not be inconceivable for the force fielding the "laser", to literally "paint" the target before lasing it. This could be done by literal paint, or by simply ablating the battle field to form a cloud of dirt. $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Oct 5, 2015 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Noname, simply put. The best reflective armor in the world is cheap and replaceable. But they are also extremely fragile. In fact, I can bet you have a roll of the stuff in your kitchen... $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Oct 5, 2015 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Noname Also, if you wrap you MBT in aluminium foil, you will very quickly find that your tank crews will be ready to be served with vegetables, stuffing and gravy. $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Oct 5, 2015 at 3:39

what a interesting question. Most non-energy solutions have been posted already, I think. But I feel that something is missing right in your question: what do you count as "energy weapon"?

When I hear this I think of Star Wars Blaster and Turbolaser and these Weapons the Jaffa from Star Gate do carry around or proton torpedoes. Well... But you asked for a science-valid resolution. So count out all of these above, even if there might be some realism behind, if you dig deep enough.

So... still, what do you accept as an energy-weapon? And what do you accept as a piece of artillery? From what today is used, you separate into Direct Fire Weapons and Indirect Fire Weapons. Most artillery is the second type (even if most of them can do both), but what we do understand as artillery is something that specialize hitting stuff beyond their line of sight, using calculation, observers or intelligent ammunation. To archive this, your weaponsystem should be able to do this. Using energy.

Even further, a piece of artillery could be everything that isn't a handheld weapon. Even tanks can be artillery (no, not self propelled howitzers, real tanks), if you wrap your description carefully... At all, they are a piece of self propelled direct fire barrel based artillery with extreme crew and weapon system survivability due to well thought placing of highly resistant armor plating. But thats quite a description for a tank... So first question to clarify: What kind of combat participant would you accept as artillery?

Second problem: what is energy? Does a random burst of hard gamma rays count? Does it need to to flash colorful? Does it need to make boom? I want to ask you what I asked the guy who opened that Railgun vs. Gyrojet question: What the hell you want to archive using this energy-artillery? Leveling enemy installations? Keep enemies away from a given point? Performing priority target sniper shots? Provide gas or other nasty agents? Well, for that case energy weapons would be not usable... but Artillery is used for providing smoke-screens this days - especially the smaller pieces, like mortars.

So... lets take a simple approach and say, your energy-artillery would be a self propelled unit, that is tasked to do indirect fire support at a range of targets, primary to deny access to an area... no, wait you said, your first though was that artillery shells the enemy using dematerialization ammo. That sounds like a task for an anti-tank whatever. WW2 ones were direct-fire units, and still... if you want to make sure to hit something, you need line of sight. Either the gun itself, or someone who can aim for them (even the ammo itself does count, but you will have a hard time creating an intelligent plasma bolt). Otherwise all you would do is cutting huge holes into the battlefield, sometimes get a lucky indirect hit, what would... well, the same this days artillery do.

Here does one thing kick in, the other posters already mentioned: Energy as a weaponized wave isn't able to curve over a prop at your battlefield. Either you can ignore this and right punch through, or you need to stay with the good old ballistic shells.

And shooting through the Planet? When your enemies turn off their shields. this attack is supposed to react to, you are bad off. Even more - your position would be known if they have a way of tracking these beams. Or they get triggerd by something in the ground, like an unstable repository of ultra heavy metals. Uh... sounds like you can accidentally blow up the whole planet doing this, or at least the continental plate your units stand at. Well... your decision.

So... what to do? Whatever you want to - if you need the traits artillery is widely known for - indirect fire, providing big boom - you either stick with shells or allow some magic. Or Plasma. Its not this inefficient as one might assume. All you need to do is keep the containment intact until it hits something. Let me think... XCOM used a plastic, that is wrapped around the plasma bullet when it leaves the gun. I don't remember the details, but why not use a meta-material, that can be created like a soap bubble and transform heat-energy into magnetic fields. As soon as it hits something, that containment-thing break and whatever did cause this get a plasmasplosion right in its face. Sounds pretty mean.

Finally... when you want weapon-systems, think of us as kind of weapon companies. Tell us, what your weapon system should archive, what it may use and so on, and you might get a big idea from someone who happens to know some crazy stuff that might suit your needs. Because maybe the task you try to archive with your energy-artillery is done better by something other. Well... yea, like the satellites the others mentioned.

Have a nice day

  • $\begingroup$ This needs more upvotes for the plasma containment option. Achieves indirect fire, vastly more efficient than shooting raw plasma, and relatively cheap (if the technology to generate and contain plasma is cheap/mass-producable at the technology stage of your world). $\endgroup$
    – Doktor J
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:55


You do not arc your energy over. You bounce it back down out of the sky. It is like a bank shot in pool, except the ionosphere is your cushion.

In radio communication, skywave or skip refers to the propagation of radio waves reflected or refracted back toward Earth from the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere. Since it is not limited by the curvature of the Earth, skywave propagation can be used to communicate beyond the horizon, at intercontinental distances.

radiowaves bouncing off ionosphere

I feel like these wave trajectories look kind of like artillery shell trajectories! Only certain wave frequencies will bounce off the ionosphere. The frequency determines where it will bounce. But frequency of electromagnetic radiation is independent of energy: you can have 520 nm green light that you can barely read by, or 520 nm green light which incinerates what it falls upon.

Now you have the frequencies that can bounce. Can you make a laser with that frequency? A pencil thin radio frequency laser? Maybe... https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/2152/can-radio-waves-be-formed-into-a-pencil-beam

  • $\begingroup$ Consider a piece of white paper and a flashlight: using the paper as a reflector, you can bounce enough white light from the flashlight to illuminate something enough to see. Now try using a laser. You won't a proper laser point reflected, but scattered light, and if the laser is powerful, it will just burn through the paper. The ionosphere works roughly the same way. $\endgroup$ Nov 16, 2017 at 16:43

Some ideas:

Just shoot through the ground. You'd have basically an artillery system where the beams emerge from beneath the enemy's feet.

Antimatter projectiles. Do these count? A variety of bombs can be made as energy weapons and be shot at the enemy.

Arcing lightning guns. Shoot some kind of projectile that ionizes the air behind it, then shoot a pulse of electricity through the track the projectile left. Can also be done with a cabled projectile.

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    $\begingroup$ "Just shoot through the ground"?! $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Oct 2, 2015 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, energy and technology aren't an issue. $\endgroup$
    – Fhnuzoag
    Oct 2, 2015 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ While energy might not be an issue, conservation of energy is. If you pour enough energy into one spot on the Earth's surface to try and vaporize 13,000km of rock, where does all that heat energy go? It can't dissipate into the surrounding rock nearly fast enough. Then there's the pressure from all the rock you're vaporizing in that narrow hole, where does that go? You get a jet of super-heated plasma right back in your face, if not an immediate explosion. Points for original thinking though, you might be onto something with shooting through the planet (this is genuine). $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Oct 2, 2015 at 18:48

The enemy tanks are clustered in a valley on the other side a ridge of hills. They outnumber our vehicles 20 to 1 and each is heavier and better armed than our best. When they come up over that ridge, nothing we can do, will be able to stop them. The capital will fall.

Fortunately, we brought some mobile artillery along, a pair of Irish Twins.

Your assignment is to take one of the twins and flank the enemy camp. You'll need to get on the other side of them so that when you fire its nano-laser out over their heads, it will intersect with the one we're launching from here. If we are careful, we can place that intersection directly above those tanks. Then, when their combined energies meet, it will be hot enough to ignite a spontaneous nuclear reaction. The very air above their heads will fission and rain hellfire down upon them.

In a single shot, we can win this war!

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    $\begingroup$ Air won't undergo fission, it's made up of very light elements, is far too diffuse to support a chain reaction, and you'd need to be firing a neutron beam to knock apart atomic nuclei. I think you mean fusion. Fusion won't happen either. As you pour energy into a given spot it will heat the air which will expand and leave that spot. You need heat and pressure to force atomic nuclei together for fusion. You're better off shooting your lasers at the tanks, or hucking a fusion bomb at them. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Oct 2, 2015 at 18:52

As Noname mentioned, you need a slow moving projectile, for it to arc. This is because you need the travel time to be large to allow the projectile to accelerate downwards.

However simple Physics states.

Energy mass momentum equation of GR

Given that an energy weapon is a weapon where m = 0. This equation reduces to E = pc.

To maximize E (ie energy on target) you have to maximize p, which would make your projectile shoot more straight.


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