It is really really hard to beat kinetic energy as a way to transfer energy to a target. I'd expect handheld railguns before lasers. – John Meacham 20 mins ago

It's just simply hard to find a proper justification for the D.E.W. when compared to kinetic weapons.

My idea was to use a special shield that has a superb protection against kinetic strikes.

Before the question:


  • Precise.
  • Requires huge amounts of energy.
  • Could have a non-lethal function.
  • 20% efficiency.
  • Can be obscured with smoke grenades and reflected with mirrors.

Plasma Ball lightning (silicon vapor theory version):

  • Disables electronics.

  • Requires lightning levels of power.

  • Can be manipulated with magnetic fields.

  • Carries thermal energy (14,700–29,700 °C).

  • Likely to be burning silicon mixed with a bunch of other stuff.

  • It has a significantly longer lifespan than plasma.

Based on this information, how can I justify or fix the problems of these weapons to make them viable for the infantry?

Note: Getting kinetic weapons out of commission isn't our main goal.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What environment are we talking about? Lasers have a fatal flaw in atmosphere, which obviously disappears in vacuum. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 14 '17 at 17:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it works, and if you can afford it, and if you can get it to where it needs to be, it is viable. If you're considering this at all, you've already had to handwave the power source and the cost of the weapons themselves. If they're cheap enough, every infantryman will have a laser weapon simply because of the potentially ludicrous range with no ballistic drop or tumble. As the expense goes up, or if it gets heavy and hard to move, you see them less often. Maybe one per fire team, or one per squad. If it gets to one per platoon, the sniper answer is likely best. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Mar 15 '17 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Miech there is no infantry in space. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 15 '17 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ I think you're on the right track with the shield idea. Something like a near-perfect active protection system could all but eliminate projectile weapons' effectiveness. $\endgroup$ – Kys Mar 15 '17 at 16:17

22 Answers 22


Sounds to me like your laser weapons would make pretty good sniper rifles.

  1. As @Anketam noted, they can be silenced easily, and the lasers they fire might not even be in the visible spectrum. This is absolutely perfect for sniping. No bright flash, no loud bang, no bullet trail... the only thing that might give you away is heat, or an infrared/UV detector (depending on which part of the non-visible spectrum you're using).
  2. Modern snipers, when firing, have a whole raft of variables to take into account when aiming: wind speed and direction, the effect of gravity on the bullet, the curvature of the earth, whether your target will move in the second it will take the bullet to travel to him... With lasers, you wouldn't have to worry about any of that. They travel in a straight line, at relativistic speeds. Just aim and fire. You might have a greater effective range as well, depending on how much the beam spreads.
  3. Target hiding behind a wall? If your lasers have enough power to go through a human, they probably have enough power to go through the wall. Even if the target hides behind a mirror, the beam will still damage the mirror unless it's perfect (just don't shoot the mirror straight on).
  4. According to @SimonRichter in a comment, laser weapons have no discernable recoil (credit to @Ross Presser for pointing out the "discernable" part). Current sniper rifles have horrendous recoil; eliminate that and you can fire repeatedly much faster.
  5. As far as I'm aware, sniper rifles tend to have small magazines anyway, so limited energy reserves wouldn't be as much of a problem as they might be with, say, an assault rifle. You could even hook the thing up to an external energy tank - you're a sniper, you're not going anywhere for a while.

Modern snipers are a scary enough prospect for an army. A laser sniper that can fire from arbitrary distances, with virtually nothing to give him away, would be utterly horrifying.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Well, if it's in the visible spectrum there's likely a bright flash for one person... $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Mar 14 '17 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ Theoretically there is a recoil -- light carries momentum, c.f. light sails -- , but for a handheld laser it is certainly undetectable by a human holding it. $\endgroup$ – Ross Presser Mar 15 '17 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ It's probably stealthier than a conventional sniper rifle (with noise and a flash when firing) but if it's visible spectrum, you'll see the beam - it'll scatter in anything that isn't vacuum, and the thing that it hits will also scatter the light. But there isn't really much reason for a weapon to use visible light for all the reasons noted - but at that point you might find maser a better choice. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Mar 15 '17 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure about the range... There is no perfect laser, the beam will always diverge. For instance, a laser pointer will still annoy a keeper on the other side of a football pitch, but the "point" is already the size of his face! Also, no mirror is perfect, so if your laser is strong enough, it will begin to melt the mirror's surface within seconds destroying the plane structure. Then much less light will be reflected, so that you will punch through. However, the initial seconds can be very dangerous for the sniper herself, if the mirror is actually a reflector! $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Mar 15 '17 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the feedback and corrections, I've tweaked my answer accordingly. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Mar 15 '17 at 11:43

It seems to me that D.E.W. Would be a must in a situation where energy generation and storage is plentiful and well developed but material resources are really low. Which could also be the reason for the war itself. If the army doesn't wan't to spare even an ounce of metal that could be used elsewhere they would naturally change their standards.
Alternatively, your army might be inclined to give energy weapons to rookies, so they don't bother with the intricacies of projectile parabola while aiming and proper magazine protocol when reloading and save the kinetic weapons for veterans that would give them a more efficient use.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Or in the case of my story: Being away from any resources, only having Maxwell's demon as a helper during missions and using all three types together with their unique abilities to maximalize tactical efficiency. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 12:20
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted Maxwell's demon? You're not really shooting for realism, are you? :-) $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Mar 14 '17 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDvorak phys.org/news/2013-12-maxwell-demon-quantum.html (theory part: replenish the info holder from a small wormhole) $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDvorak there's this (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_energy_teleportation) $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted from your description: That's not Maxwell's demon, but a molecular valve powered by a very exotic cooling system :-) That being said, I want that thing! Let me suggest calling it a "Maxwell's imp". Or perhaps "Maxwell's gremlin". $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Mar 14 '17 at 14:25

Use them for specific situations

Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) have a several attributes that are being overlooked that can make them better suited for certain situations. Thus depending on the mission it may be better to send your troops in with DEWs rather than kinetic weapons (or a mix of both):

No moving parts and no parts to clean

kinetic weapons require upkeep and cleaning to stay effective. As long as the DEW has power it likely will be able to keep going far longer than a traditional kinetic weapon. So in an intense battle of attrition last thing you want is your weapon to jam up.

Silenced weapons

Movies and shows like to make energy weapons out to be loud and flashy. In combat this likely will not be the case specially for laser weapons. Lasers shoot a beam of focused and very intense light. However, the light does not have to be in the visual spectrum, thus the enemies will not be able to spot the laser even if it is shot through something that refracts the beam. The laser likely would be much more easily silenced than a kinetic weapon since it is not trying to suppress the sound of a small explosion while trying not to sacrifice muzzle velocity or accuracy. As such if you are planning to ambush an enemy position, doing it with lasers can help extend the element of surprise.

Plasma as an anti armor weapon

Shooting balls of plasma or ball lightning at armored targets likely will be able to melt armor. So if you spot an armored personal carrier (APC) and have plasma weapons you can open fire on the APC and likely still cause significant damage to it and those inside, without having to resort to using explosives.

  • $\begingroup$ Note, that ball lightning is likely to be burning hot silicon that responds to electromagnetic fields. In that sense, would using it against APCs be like using thermite on them? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ pretty much, but likely it will not last as long as a thermite reaction would. However you can keep firing until you get the desired effect. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Mar 14 '17 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Anyways, the invisible killer laser is something that I knew previously from watching that video where the laser just blew up a smaller boat with explosives on it, it's scarier when you don't know where the attack came from. Note: read the talk my talk with Pete. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also, DEWs don't have recoil. In an environment without gravity, that is a significant difference. $\endgroup$ – Simon Richter Mar 14 '17 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @SimonRichter Actually they do. Photons have momentum, and as such, laser weapon will have to have recoil and will impart momentum on target. However, recoil of laser gun would be pretty much negligible, compared to more traditional weapons. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 14 '17 at 17:10

Maybe we should take a step back and look at what makes an army effective, or a winner, in the first place. That would be...Logistics! An Army is effective when it can project it's political will into a given area better than the enemy can. Boots, Beans, Bullets, and Bandages. This is why Napoleon and Hitler were not able to take on the less well equipped Russians. It is also why the Maginot Line flat did not work.

Lets look at energy weapons then. As of right now, any advantage they may have over normal projectile weapons is lost when you think about things like the power supply. It would be huge, and therefore difficult to field. Conventional weapons carry a great deal of energy stored as gunpowder, which is easy to get into the field.

If you could get an equivalent amount of destructive power to an AR15 and package it into something the same size and mass, then you have a justification to develop personal energy weapons. If you can exceed the performance by having a near infinite amount of "ammo", even better. The final trump card is expense. Make a laser weapon that can fire a lot, weighs less than an AR15, and is less than $100 per soldier armed, you might have a winner.

Good generals always end up judging a weapons system by how well it helps beat the enemy. That's why Machine guns, though expensive, are fairly common. they are heavy, and expensive to operate, but they can kill a lot of enemy very quickly. Therefore, they are worth the time and expense to get them and all that ammo to the battlefield. It's the same rational process that lead to the development of the Bodkin Arrow, the crossbow, the war hammer, the long pike.... What is going to work to kill the enemy effectively?

You have to consider both sides, effectiveness and logistics, when developing new weapons.

  • $\begingroup$ Energy wouldn't be a huge problem as the members of a squad could sync together their energy supply with this(it even kills the enemy's communication). $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ To play devils advocate, what would happen to the squad if the energy transmission is disrupted? That would be the equivalent of a squad in enemy territory running out of bullets. Something to contemplate $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Mar 14 '17 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ I meant with each other and with this, sorry, my fault. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ You might still have the problem of individuals getting moved out of effective range of of the power source. Modern military doctrine wants troops to be close enough to work together, but far enough apart so that one grenade won't take several out at once. It's one of those things in movies that make me crazy. One concept you might play with is kind of like Voltron. They could combine to make something big, like a plasma artillery piece, but they aren't helpless without the rest of the squad either. I like the idea, but these are things you have to contemplate and work around in the story $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Mar 14 '17 at 15:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Supply lines are always a big deal. Your average soldier is limited in ammo capacity based on what he can carry. (Light infantry in particular) And getting ammunition/fuel etc. to 'the front' in a reliable timely fashion can be extremely difficult. A weapon that never runs dry, and you can just 'spray and pray' if you need to is quite attractive. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Mar 15 '17 at 9:58

The problem is not how to fix the problems with that weapons. The problem is how to justify developing them at all since with a fraction of the power you need for one of these you could build a railgun or gauss gun which would be much more lethal and way harder to protect against.

Since it's true that this is more a comment than a definitive answer, I'll expand a little. The only way I can see these weapons interesting enough to replace kinetic weapons is in space.

Aside of getting rid of the numerous problems that an atmosphere is going to cause to directed energy weapons, you gain two major advantages: no ammunition, in a place where resupplying is tremendously expensive (and probably not inmediately available) and fully recoiless weapons. If you fire a gun in zero-G you have as much possibilites to get hurt by the 2nd Newton's law as your target is from your bullets.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This reads more like a comment than an answer. $\endgroup$ – Erik Mar 14 '17 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Rek. As Erik mentioned this is commentary rather than an answer. Feel free to use the comment question to get clarification/point out potential problems with the question. Please update this answer to address the question being asked as well as expounding on the how/why as appropriate. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 14 '17 at 17:04

Why not both?

Kinetic weapons have advantages: lots of kinetic energy, and simple. And the clear disad: ammo is heavy.

Beam energy weapons have similar advantages, along with straight line of sight all the way to end of range. They also have disads: reflectability is probably the worst. Being able to be defeated by a piece of tinfoil kinda sucks. This issue (among others) means such weapons are more likely to be used ship-to-ship, than in an infantry role.

Non-beam energy weapons have advantages: lots of electromagnetic or thermal energy. This disrupts electronics, including shields and countermeasures. They also have disadvantages: no real penetration beyond what they eat away while destroying the plasma; and no easy way to "carry" the plasma to the target.

So if you're firing plasma, then it arguably "makes sense" for the plasma balls to have a small solid kinetic core to "carry" the plasma to the target.

This answers the argument of "what if they run out of power"? Then they're down to "mere" explosive-kinetic flechettes, still effective against soft targets lacking kinetic armor.

But while they have power, they are firing those flechettes surrounded by a plasma toroid, keeping it stable over longer distances, preventing it slowing, and delivering a plasma-energy punch at the far end. The hard flechette breaches soft or lightly-armored targets, brittle asbestos and carbon fiber that plasma would have a hard time with, allowing the softer plasma to penetrate in its wake.

Edit: there's been confusion over this suggestion, so I'll try to re-explain.

I am proposing that the weapons fire a bolt of plasma with a solid core.

This is to address the problem that real-life "plasma" weapons have: that they simply can't be directed through the air without a charge-carrier connecting the weapon to the target. Real-life plasma-weapon designs are essentially like a taser, where the wire vaporizes into plasma (in the sense of "electrically conductive gas"), and then the plasma carries the charge. In this way, the wire works kind of like the stepped leader in a lightning bolt.

This is very unlike the traditional "laser bolt" from sci-fi, though, which is a projectile, not a beam weapon. But you just can't fire a charged gas like a projectile, through the air. The air resistance stops it and dissipates the charge within a foot or two.

So instead, I suggest a small, very-highly-charged metal object (a "flechette"), so highly charged that the air around it becomes plasma? This is almost certainly also infeasible, but at least appears more scientifically believable than a weapon that's purely made from lasers, or puffs of plasma. To an observer, all that's seen is a bolt of superheated glowing air.

The metal carrier at the center of the bolt penetrates armor and conducts the surrounding plasma charge straight into the victim, where it disintegrates, electrocutes, cooks, destroys electronics, melts, welds, etc... basically like a small lightning strike.

The advantage of this over regular projectile weapons is that the ammo becomes an awful lot lighter, as it delivers more damage per gram because of the strong charge it carries, to the projectiles can be smaller.

  • $\begingroup$ First, that was my original idea, the swipe tactics, second, why do people always think ball lightning to be that plasma? (it's burning silicon and a bunch of other stuff smashed together, in this case) No offense. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ I said nothing about "swipe tactics", nor about "ball lightning", and I don't see the combination option documented elsewhere here, let alone as your idea. You might be responding to the wrong post? $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Mar 14 '17 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Swipe tactics was first proposed in one of my comments, here, kill the first few with laser, disco smoke grenade deployed, so switch to guns, suppresss them, and guide a ball lightning behind their cover. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 21:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted You may mean "swap" (to change a thing for another thing) not "swipe" (to steal or slide a thing). Either way, it seems different from my suggestion, which is to have the weapons firing a bolt of plasma with a solid core. This is to address the problems that real-life "plasma" weapons have. I have edited my answer to try to make this clearer. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Mar 14 '17 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ I see, let me help: link (the video's title is a bit misleading )link $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 22:29

Cost and practicality

Projectile weapons are both cheap and practical to use.

Energy weapons require a huge amount of energy (since they're energy weapons), so need their energy source to be both small/portable and cheap to manufacture.

To make energy weapons worthwhile, you need a huge amount of technology and funding to make them useable.

And then you still need to justify that in terms of the end result, which in basic terms is killing enemy soldiers in line of sight.

Is the added expense worth the cool factor?

For line of sight work for infantry, projectile weapons are an easy choice.

  • $\begingroup$ What if we use them in swipe tactics? Kill few enemies with the lasers, switch to kinetic weapons and plasma, roast them behind the cover with ball lightning, while suppressing them with guns. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ It still doesn't really deliver more than automatic weapons and explosive projectiles. Or smart missiles/drones strikes. $\endgroup$ – user10945 Mar 14 '17 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ Use them together for maximum overkill, the military likes to make sure, that the targets are neutralized :) $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think you're missing/ignoring the point about the practicality of the energy ammunition. Is it worth all that expense for little in terms of net operational gain over existing systems? $\endgroup$ – user10945 Mar 14 '17 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ So, I have to search for a way to increase the energy efficiency. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 12:03

How about:

Scalalbility and adaptability

You can't change propellant load or calibre of cartridge, you can change power drain and burst duration.

Your laser rifles are overengineered. They weight 8 kilograms (or 80 if you have powered armour in your world, basically, a lot compared to battle rifle, details are up to you) and are rather unwieldy, but with one flip of a switch they transform from anti-personel rifle shooting quick short and weak bursts into anti materiel rifle explosively vaporising outer layers of armour and thus inducing shock and spallation to take out light vehicles and fortifications.

Reality is not a game, you can't carry around entire armoury, so squadmate carrying anti materiel weapon (and ammo) won't be carrying assault/battle rifle. This poses problem if he needs a rifle, and poses another problem if he is... ahem, eliminated from combat but squad needs his weapon. Same with designated marksman rifle and machine guns.

And that's what laser rifles are about. They adapt. It's a battle rifle, sniper rifle, anti materiel rifle or heavy machine gun and all options are one flip of a switch away from each other. When you know what environment to expect (city, town, village, forest, fields, plains, mountains etc.), kinetic weapon will be better, when you either don't know what to expect or know that you will switch environments a lot, multi-purpose laser rifle will be better. I would imagine regular infantry using laser weapons, infantry specialised in specific environment (mountain regiments etc.) to use kinetics tailored for their environment and special forces picking whatever will fit mission profile.



I would say that the biggest disadvantage for kinetic weapons is ammunition, which is bulky, (very) heavy and dangerous to store in large quantities. If in your world there is a portable way to generate enormous amounts of power (by converting some matter, say) then it maybe logistically easier to use that rather then normal ammo. Especially if the infantry in question operates in remote areas, separated from supply lines for extended periods of time.

Of course in that case you have to think about the energy generating device, and weather or not it can be used as weapon in and of itself


Another consideration is accuracy over longer ranges. D.E.Ws would be less susceptible to gravity or wind.

However they may be more susceptible to other things, like fog or heavy rain, depending on their nature.


In theory D.E.Ws can have different power settings for different tasks, reducing the need for multitude of different weapon types (anti-tank grenades, sniper rifles etc.) so once again, logistics are greatly simplified. In situations where the nature of the threat is unknown of one is arming a foreign army/freedom fighters it is much easier to just supply one size fits all type weapon


You didn't specify where this takes place. Thus:

You are fighting in very dense atmosphere (certainly not humans unless they're in some very good suits) or perhaps even in liquid (or in between--something above it's critical point where the line between liquid and gas is blurred.) Kinetic weapons have severe range limits, if you want to hit something far away you have to use a laser.


Handheld DEWs, of whatever variety, are crippled when handheld: Humans are not a steady platform, and humans can identify a human-sized target from only a few hundred meters away. Current kinetic weapons already hit those envelopes, too.

DEWs may be effective against fairly large aircraft that are close enough, but unlikely against smaller drones that cannot be easily seen.

Soldiers are very good at using real cover (not mere concealment) when possible, and are trained to time and synchronize their movements to confuse the eneny and avoid being hit - a DEW has no advantage there.

That's why much long-range US firepower separates the (closer, concealed) observer from the (distant, unobservable) source of fire. An infantryman who can identify targets for more powerful platforms is worth much more than an infantryman with a slightly-more-powerful-under-some-circumstances assault weapon. This has the added advantage of denying the enemy a visible target to engage - death simply falls upon them seemingly from nowhere.

Consider instead using gyro-stabilized DEWs mounted on networked ground or air platforms - some Tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles. This uses DEWs to their best effect - more energy available (higher rate of fire) and able to use their greater range more effectively on a wider range of targets.

Example: Ground-platform-mounted, networked DEWs, with proper sensors CAN attack those smaller aircraft at great distances, and could slag inbound kinetic artillery and missile rounds - even ballistic missiles in flight...targets the infantryman cannot see or detect and that current kinetic systems do not find easy to handle.


A sufficient justification for the infantry using lethal, directed energy weapons

Ease of maintenance. No more field stripping. A directed energy weapon has no moving parts that can be fouled by gun-powder residue and grime. This makes for a more reliable weapon in all forms of weather and terrain. From damp rainforest to wind blown deserts.

Reduced logistics Kinetic weapons need bullets and bullets means logistics. Directed energy weapon have no bullets so they are logistically less intensive to maintain.

Easier to use lasers shoot straight, and not effected by wind, and planetary gravity, no recoil. They are thus much easier to use. And easier to train. Much like why guns initially superseded bows and armored knights. Not because early guns had longer range, fasted rate of fire or could punch through armor. But because was alot easier to train peasant to use. Perhaps your training time has been reduced to weeks due to the need of more soldier to throw into war.

High energy storage found Yes, your scientist have found a way to store energy in a very compact form. Perhaps you have cold fusion, perhaps you have hot fusion but the reactor is the size of a backpack. Perhaps you have solve the problem of extracting and storing energy in metastable nuclei of elements such as hofnium. (Ie you have the equivalents of battery that can store the power of a nuclear bomb). No matter how it is achieved, the average grunt can now walk into combat carrying a lot of energy in a very light form. So much so that the idea of carrying 20 pounds of ammo can be discarded as something of the past. The average load of a US soldier is now 60 pounds and goes up to a maximum of 130 pounds. Vietnam gunner used to carry 60 pounds of ammo. Lighter loads means you can have more women soldier carrying as much fire power as men and enduring longer combat missions.

Biology is unfair. But laser weapons bring more gender equality to ground war.

One power unit fits all Again this is logistics. If a power pack can run anything from a canon to a riffle to communications equipment to night sights, again this is a massive savings. You only need to build one type of power unit to supply your troops. Making manufacturing easier and cheaper due to the economy of scale. Logistics of keeping both infantry and Armour supplied is reduced immensely. It also makes recharging/replacing said power unit a lot easier. Perhaps said power unit also have dual use in civilian life. Depending on the nature of the power unit, your nation may not have a central power grid, making your nation more robust to attack on power plants.

Power armor Sure power armor can aid both kinetic and directed energy weapons. However the power unit that powers the direct energy weapon can power the power armor and vise versa.


If the enemy has any kind of force field / energy shield then lasers are a very good weapon. Any shield that they can see through allows you to shoot them.

The only effective defense against lasers (in my current understanding) would be a gravity based "force field" that would deflect the beam through lensing. Though you would have to figure out how to keep from crushing the protected asset while the gravity field is being generated.

Short term defenses would be a reflective aerosol that might scatter enough of the beam (before the tiny reflectors are vaporized) to reduce damage.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Finally! A tactical use for my disco fog machine! $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 14 '17 at 18:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @user535733, just make sure it produces glitter with the fog. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 14 '17 at 18:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @user535733, another tactical use would be to sneak the fog machine and some speakers near an enemy camp and play spooky noises. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 14 '17 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat This is why we keep echolocators and ak-47s with us. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 20:19

the major attraction of laser/beam style weapons is accuracy, specifically the beam travels towards the point of aim effectively instantaneously and in a straight line. This means that there is no need to adjust the point of aim for lead, windage or range as opposed to a ballistic projectile which follows a parabolic trajectory and can be deflected by wind and changes in air density as well as being subject to inconsistencies in its trajectory due to variations from one round to the next.

Another potential advantage is energy density. There is a fairly well defined optimum mass for a small arms bullet made from real world materials which is a compromise between kinetic energy, aerodynamic drag and weight per round. Even specialist anti-material rounds like the 0.5" BMG aren't vastly out of this range.

The weight of ammunition will always be a limiting factor on infantry firepower and there is a compromise between putting down a sufficient weight of fire to effectively suppress the enemy, having rounds with adequate range, accuracy and stopping power and the total weight of ammunition carried.

So if an energy weapon can fire more effective shots for the same weight of ammunition (power pack, battery, micro-reactor etc etc) then that is a huge advantage.


I'm having trouble answering, as I mostly agree with you.

My favorite DEW are lazzors, more specifically the kind that shoot slow-moving bolts of light. Red for bad guys, green for good guys, and purple for the heroine. I find disbelief easier to suspend when the SF is soft and no technical explanation is given.

As for real lasers, the ones in Akira were nice. They were large, heavy, and the batteries ran out very quickly, but they were the only thing able to penetrate the mutant's shields.

To stay with Akira: the other type of laser was the laser designator. This is a simple pistol which illuminates a target. The real weapon is a drone or satellite equipped with a massive laser which strikes the designated target. The fact it is a laser means it can strike very fast. Now, let's give every foot soldier an extra button on their rifles (or binoculars) which they can use to designate a target. People on the ground provide target identification, and the flying platform provides firepower.

Let's be realistic. If you have a ship equipped with lasers powerful enough to be used in battle, and soldiers on the ground, you'd have this feature. If you didn't, the other guys would.

And now...

The Microwave Gun.

Effect: Bad guys flash into steam and go boom.

Pros: Who doesn't love stylish, creative gore? Shoots through anything permeable to microwave (like Kevlar). Will diffract around metal plate armor. Turns people's eyes into hard boiled eggs, etc. Can also be used to cook dinner if you're still hungry, depending on setting.

Cons: Needs handwavium power supply. Range and accuracy similar to a sawed-off shotgun, unless the gun ends in a rather clunky parabolic dish. And don't forget to wear a conductive exoskeleton armor.

Bonus: Cramped metallic airducts, which as we all know are a must-have feature in any space ship (see: Nostromo) make excellent waveguides, and allow long-range cooking of any xenomorph.

Warning: Microwaves may not reflect around corners the way you expect.

Warning: Silicon based lifeforms may be immune. Please perform qualification tests on specimens before contacting customer service and asking for a return.

Accessory: Microwave grenade.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ By now I have: Weaponized arc welder sparks (Ball lightning), Lazors, Guns, And this $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 '17 at 22:18

Someone invents a device that shoots bullets out of the air

This is obviously almost impossible for humans to do and it would be difficult to make a machine that could physically aim a gun that quickly. However it might not be impossible, and if it isn't a laser would be one way to bypass such defenses.


Every soldier would be a sniper. A laser weapon has no limit in range, no adjustments need to be made for moving targets, wind or fall of shot. There would be no recoil. If you point the gun at the enemy and pull the trigger they die. They could be five miles away, could be in a plane, doesn't matter.

Current rifles are quite limited in range. Simply because if an enemy is at 400 meters away and steps out of cover to shoot, you have one or two seconds before he goes back, the bullet will take 0.6 seconds to get there. leaving at most 1.4 seconds for you to notice him aim and shoot. A laser weapon getting an extra 0.6 seconds to make that shot would be a huge advantage.

Ammunition would be universal. It doesn't matter whether you are arming attack helicopters, tanks, machine guns or rifles. They all use energy.

Rail guns are heavy, They have to contain an electro-magnet which is a solid lump of iron in addition to the battery. Lasers would probably be lighter.

Current bullets are designed to maim rather than kill. Dead enemies are left in the field until the fighting finishes. Wounded enemies are evacuated and cared for or captured and interrogated. The opposite side is if you maim an enemy then you may be the one that has to use resources to take care of him. An energy weapon would not only be better at crippling an enemy without killing but also allow the soldiers on the ground to decide if to kill or maim.

The biggest disadvantage I can see is the time it takes to disable an enemy. Kinetic bullets do more damage than just piercing a hole. It is thought that the shock wave travelling through the blood stream (hydrostatic shock) often knocks people out immobilising them instantly.


Several thoughts on potential advantages of DEWs:

Lasers: In a highly robotized/mechanized future, laser weapons with automated targetting would be much more precise and dangerous and likely to outperform similar mechanical weapons (with recoil and bullet physics/speed). For instance a future soldier could enter a combat situation with a shoulder-mounted laser array set to automatically blind/disable any opponents - the array's AI could identify eyes/glasses/sensors and take them out with short concentrated bursts almost instantaneously, even individually deflecting moving kinetic projectiles from an attacker. Future infantry will want every way to avoid actual deadly kinetic attacks and disabling enemy targetting/visualisation systems would be a crucial part of that.

Ball lightning/Plasma: Future soldiers would be heavily reliant on AI/robot combat support and so often disabling/frying computer systems would be much more important than punching holes in things. Consider a high-tech infantry assault on a fortified urban position: taking out power sources and computer/targetting systems of the enemy would give you the advantage as your drone/VR nightvision-assisted infantry pushes forward through smoke towards the enemy whose computers are down, AI-assisted helmet visors blank and are reduced to shooting randomly into the air.


Armor and shielding capabilities. If you can't get through the shield with brute force, melt the shield.

Can be obscured with smoke grenades and reflected with mirrors.

Also this line is bugging me.

Smoke grenades wouldn't stop a laser weapon. You would be able to see the direction the beam is going, but only for a fraction of a second.

No mirror is perfect. As stated in an answer to this question:

Even assuming your mirror is made from something absolutely perfectly suited to reflecting the laser beam, defect-free and absorbing only 1/1012th of the 1015 watts in your laser beam, you will feel like you were hit by a truck — light has momentum.

Specifically, 1 Petawatt / (speed of light) = 3,335,640.95 newtons… actually, that's not a truck. 340 tons is what you get if you stack three tanks on a blue whale.

High power laser weapons would be great in disabling literally anything from incredibly far away, best use as a sniper rifle.

Ball lightning. Why use this if you have lasers? It would take a lot more energy, moves slower then the laser, and you can move out of the way. It would only be useful as something like an under-barrel grenade launcher a la Half-life 2.


D.E.W. is any tacticians wet dream. I believe they will be developed parallel with advanced projectile weapons, but I think absent some technological breakthroughs in high power projectiles area it will be laser weapons at first.


  1. Requires energy only. No ammo needed, so combat load is instantly smaller. Yes, it's being offset by power pack weight, but I don't think it's in same range. Combat load in infantry is about 10 pounds of 5.56 ammo including LBE. twice that for LMG. Twice that for MMG ammo.
  2. Powerful enough. Yes, laser can be weakened by smoke and mirrors, but:

    • energy threshold for that to be a problem is about a megajoule (that's equivalent of a 200g of TNT), which is a lot.
    • Currently lasers can output Petawatt per second, which is a one billion megajoules, but they do it by emitting in that time (yes, in a second) several million pulses of 500J - equivalent of .45ACP projectile each. Smoke will dissipate that only to a small degree. Same with mirrors - they need to be built to match the wave of the laser to be effective.
  3. It's instantly vacuum-rated, recoilless, non-ballistic characteristic, reactionless etc.

  4. Power source for them can be unified across the board (that is: no different calibers, calibres etc.)

Energy is energy, but the origin matters. Kinetic energy of a projectile comes from somewhere, that is: there needs to be energy expenditure in the first place. However, in contrast to projectiles laser cannot be easily deflected nor absorbed.

Plasma energy is much harder to achieve, and is - at least theoretically - much easier to defend against (simplifying: strong enough e-m shield can dissipate it).

SO in conclusion: d.e.w. actually needs only reliable high-capacity power storage to be technologically viable as of now. And, thinking on it, if one wants to trade some of the combat readiness time for power levels, capacitors+batteries setup is possible even now for something reasonable. Kilowatt laser (equivalent to roughly 2x45.ACP)? There are capacitors now available allowing for 8 shots, in the size of two shotgun shells and weighing much less than that (I know; simplification).

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "Power source for them can be unified across the board" -- can be, and yet I have four kinds of battery and a box full of chargers just for the crap around my house. So whether it would be is another matter ;-) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Mar 14 '17 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveJessop - So, so true. Yet... The car battery charger I have will work with any motorbike/car/HGV battery made within last 99 years as long as it's BCI compliant and will work off power grid on any continent... $\endgroup$ – AcePL Mar 15 '17 at 15:41

Lasers will be the weapon of choice for infantry.

With all respect to Mr Meacham, if a effective handheld laser can be developed, it would utterly dominate the battlefield of the future due to the lack of sound or flashes to fire at.

Think about the Battle of Stalingrad, where sniper fire and ambushes were king. Now imagine those weapons are totally silent, and it's not just one or two snipers firing, but an entire squad, and you have no idea where they're firing from until you spot them, IF you spot them.

It would not take many such battles before laser weapons simply became the rifleman's weapon of choice. Plasma and rail weaponry might be utilized as anti-materiel weapons, but would likely incur heavy losses due to noise.

As an aside: Laser weapons also have the advantage of simply needing power. Taking along some solar panels means you could recharge spare or depleted batteries during the daytime, lessening the your logistical burden.


The X-rays are probably most effective, if there is a technology for efficient X-ray laser. They can't be mirrored nor shielded (thick lead is not suitable for infantry). The military is actually looking into using them, but only currently available tech is not portable and medium is discarded on use.

Another possibility is synchrotron radiation. As it spans whole spectrum, it should be hard to fully deflect or shield.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.